A Parenting Guide to Your Child’s Self-Worth

By Greg Baer M.D.

January 8, 2024


Marta, a 13-year-old girl, recently reached out to me, seeking guidance.

Having been raised by a mother who implemented the principles of Real Love® in parenting, Marta and her siblings have made significant progress in their personal growth. 

Encouraging Self-Worth

However, during our conversation, Marta expressed a common concern among children: self-doubt, specifically feeling 'dumb'.

This moment is critical for parents, as our response can greatly influence a child's self-perception.

Common Parental Mistakes

Parents often instinctively counter negative self-talk by affirming the opposite, like saying, "No, you’re not dumb."

However, this approach might not be as helpful as it seems.

To understand why, let's consider a scenario where a child struggles to learn how to ride a bicycle. Telling them they're doing great, despite their obvious struggles, can make them question our honesty and, by extension, our love and guidance.

Approaching Mistakes with Honesty and Love

When Marta shared her feelings of inadequacy, I responded with honesty and love. I acknowledged that making mistakes is a part of learning, and during those times, we might indeed act 'dumb'.

However, I emphasized that the act of learning and the unconditional love I have for her are more significant than any mistake.

Upon further discussion, Marta revealed her recent conflict with her sister Emily. It was clear that Marta’s behavior in the situation was less than ideal.

Instead of directly admonishing her, I asked her to reflect on her actions, aiming to guide her towards self-awareness and growth.

What Determines Self-Worth

The conversation revealed that Marta, like many children, had internalized the idea that making mistakes equates to being 'bad'. This belief often stems from early life experiences where adults' reactions to mistakes are more accusatory than educational.

I explained to Marta that making a mistake doesn't make one bad, and her belief that 'dumb equals bad' was a misinterpretation.

To help Marta understand her inherent goodness, I used a simple analogy. Just as easily as one can differentiate between a watermelon and a chicken, I could see Marta's goodness.

This helped her realize that her actions, good or bad, do not define her worth as a person.

How to Help Your Child Have Self-Worth

  • Respond with Honesty and Love: Acknowledge children's feelings and mistakes, but always reinforce your love for them.
  • Guide Towards Self-Reflection: Encourage children to reflect on their actions and learn from their experiences.
  • Address Internalized Beliefs: Help children understand that making mistakes is a natural part of learning and does not make them 'bad'.
  • Offer Unconditional Love: Assure children that your love for them does not depend on their successes or failures.
  • Utilize Teachable Moments: Use everyday situations to instill valuable life lessons and positive self-image.
  • Promote Open Communication: Encourage honest and open dialogue where children feel safe to express their thoughts and feelings.

The story of Marta illustrates the importance of approaching parenting with a balance of love and honesty. By addressing the underlying beliefs that lead to negative self-perception and guiding children towards a healthier understanding of their mistakes, we empower them to grow into confident and self-aware individuals.

This approach, using Real Love® principles, not only nurtures their personal growth but also strengthens the bond between parent and child.

Want to learn more?

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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