To a large extent, what we believe about ourselves, determines how we treat ourselves, how we treat others and how we engage with the world around us. These beliefs begin to form in early childhood and lay the foundation for the formation of our self-regard, or our sense of self-worth.
These beliefs start to form as children begin interacting with their social environment. In early childhood, this social environment consists primarily of parents and other care-givers. Other contributors to self-regard only occur later on in childhood, such as peer comparisons during school-going years. Therefore, the formation of self-regard in early childhood is largely based on the feedback a child receives from his parents through their parenting and discipline styles. (Harvey 2001 p25-26) A young child is naturally inquisitive and searches for meaning in everything. Up until the age of 11 years, children do not have the cognitive and emotional capacity to make rational judgements about what they should or shouldn’t believe about themselves (Piaget 1936) and because they are in a trusting relationship with the parent, they automatically embrace the feedback parents give them as the truth. Good parents do not intentionally do anything to harm their children, however, sometimes parents, because they want the best for their children and because they are simply doing the best they can with the knowledge and experience they have, can unknowingly and unintentionally do harm to their child’s self-regard.
When misguided feedback from parents creates negative and limiting self-beliefs to occur, these beliefs can become fixed into adulthood creating the backdrop against which an adult forms relationships, communicates, makes decisions and handles disappointments. (Leite, Kuiper) I have observed this many times during my experience as an Executive and Life Coach. What I have found is that when deep-rooted issues are brought to the surface, what holds people back most in life, even the most successful and career driven people, is a negative early childhood experience with a care-giver. This experience creates a negative belief about their self-worth and a lockage which prevents them from reaching their full potential. Poor self-regard promotes feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt, which can derail our chances of getting what we want out of life.
A healthy child is born with every possibility for success; however, it is the messages that parents unknowingly send their children that can be detrimental to their potential. (Resnick 2018) Take, for example, the autocratic parent; the ‘do as I say’ and ‘children should be seen and not heard’ parent. When a parent engages with a child in this way, it teaches the child from a young age that his opinion does not matter and that he isn’t entitled to have a say. Children, like any other person, want to be treated with respect and dignity. (Resnick 2018) Under the autocratic style of parenting, when a child does attempt to voice his opinion, he is scolded for back-chatting and sent to his room. Since it is human nature to avoid punishment (Freud 1920), he is likely going to grow up being passive, putting other’s needs ahead of his own and avoiding conflict at all costs. Does this sound like a person who has a strong sense of self-worth? As this child develops into an adult, it is unlikely that he will suddenly come to the realisation that his opinion is now valid. Unfortunately, the beliefs and the behaviours are ingrained and will hold him back in adulthood. It will l take conscious effort and intervention to correct this.
An overprotective parenting style can also be detrimental to the formation of a healthy self-regard. Although it is natural for parents to want to protect their children, it is also important for parents to understand that children are born with a natural curiosity to explore, this is how they learn and grow. (Resnick 2018) An overly protective parent tends to underestimate their child’s capabilities and as a result is reluctant to let their child attempt new things for fear of the outcome. The message a child receives from his parents is that they are not confident in him and his abilities. Children are perceptive to this and will soon begin to doubt their own abilities too. An overprotective parenting approach fosters a child who is scared to try new things and opts out when things get challenging. (Resnick 2018) As an adult, he will lack self-efficacy and resilience.
For children to develop a thorough sense of self-worth, they need to feel accepted. A sense of belonging and acceptance is first established in parent-child relationship. (Harvey 2001) If a child starts to believe that he only matters when he succeeds, this can be extremely damaging to his self-regard. Overly corrective parents set extremely high expectations for their children and have a low tolerance for error. This is often due to their need to make up for their own failures and as a result they try to live vicariously through their children. An overly corrective parent is often critical and harsh when communicating with their child. These parents continuously correct their child and point out his faults. This parenting style leads a child to believe that he cannot do anything right and that he is not good enough. A child exposed to this type of feedback is likely to feel inferior and rejected if he does not meet his parent’s unreasonable standards. As an adult he may develop a fear of failure complex and be risk averse.
As an adult, low self-regard is associated with a lack of assertiveness. Adults who lack assertiveness are not able to express their needs. They often find themselves in unhappy and unfulfilling jobs or relationships. I have noticed that indecisiveness and procrastination are also linked to self-regard. People with low self-regard do not believe that their efforts will lead to the desired outcome. As a result, they tend to second guess themselves, leading to procrastination and perfectionistic tendencies
Many parents, today, are misguided about their role as a parent. Many parents consider their role as a parent to be the nurturer, provider and protector of their children. While these are significant aspects of parenting, parents also need to consider parenting as a process of preparing a child for adulthood and all the challenges they will face as adults. Self-belief, self-confidence and resilience are essential skills needed to succeed in adulthood, all of which are seeds that can be planted and cultivated during childhood.
By Hayley Kirby
Leite, C. & Kuiper, N.A., Positive and Negative Self-worth Beliefs and Evaluative Standards, Europe’s Journal of Psychology, <https://ejop.psychopen.eu/index.php/ejop/article/view/428/html> viewed 12 May 2020
Social and personality development, OER Services Child development, <https://courses.lumenlearning.com/atd-hostos-childdevelopment/chapter/social-andpersonality-development-in-childhood/? >Viewed 17 May 2020
Harvey, M 2017, Mind Matters- Self Esteem, 3rd edition, Routeledge, London & New York
Resnick, R 2018, Parenting Decoded, 2nd edition, Kwarts Publishers, Tswane
How Beliefs Are Formed and How to Change Them, 2018, Skilled at Life, <http://www.skilledatlife.com/how-beliefs-are-formed-and-how-to-change-them/> Viewed 25/05/2020