Some parents inadvertently diminish their children’s self-esteem by interfering with or belittling their signals for interest and enjoyment. This triggers the automatic, built-in response of shame, and shame erodes self-esteem.

In my clinical practice, I frequently work with families in which both the parents and children have a variety of troubles related to a poor sense of self and self-esteem. The adults in these families often don’t understand how feelings and emotions work. The family ends up in a toxic situation because there is a mismatch between the child’s expression of emotional needs and the parent’s ability to respond appropriately. Often, then, the children fail to develop a solid sense of self — who they are, what they like and don’t like, a confidence in their perceptions and feelings, and so on. The resulting tension that develops between parent and child can contribute to the erosion of his self-esteem. The child may become angry, defensive, intolerant, and inflexible, or withdrawn, self-destructive, envious, and fearful. In fact, a whole variety of the less pleasing personality traits can be directly attributed to a person’s lack of belief in his own essential worth. Think bully. Think timid. Think depressed, depleted, and drained. These different qualities result, in part, from a lack of self-esteem.

The results of these kinds of parenting missteps can be heartbreaking. But the results of positive parenting are tremendous. You and your child are able to enjoy one another’s company, to delight in the deepening of your friendship. You gain access to the delightfully quirky way the world looks to a child. You learn as your baby learns. You gain confidence in your parenting skills; your self-esteem increases. Over time, you become ever more able to allow your child to grow into a unique, self-confident being. And because she has a solid sense of self, she will become capable of forming fulfilling relationships and of maintaining a healthy autonomy.