What should the new parent do to develop the self-esteem of a child

As science develops, and especially with the advancement of brain neuroimaging it becomes evident that the early years of a baby's life are very important of the rest of its life.

Τι πρέπει να κάνει ο νέος γονιός για την ανάπτυξη της αυτοεκτίμησης του παιδιού του

The relationship of the baby with its parents will determine both how other relationships will be in its life, and its self-esteem.

During the first three months, the new couple, especially the mother, must respond directly to the crying baby and try to understand its needs. Breastfeeding increases the sense of safety for the baby and if the relationship with the mother is good during this time, creates a protective shield against future eating disorders, use of substances and alcoholism (i.e. “bad” foods).

Winnicott says that mothers should be neither too good, nor inadequate, but just fairly good. Namely she must neither overfeed the baby, nor leave it hungry. A parent who is too good will not be an incentive for empowerment of the child ...

The empowerment of the baby starts from the beginning. The baby gradually grows and continuously makes new achievements. Language helps the baby communicate, its exploration starts with crawling, the development of motor skills makes it confident to slowly handle everyday objects.

When the bond with the mother is safe (the baby knows that the mother will respond to its call and needs), then it further explores the environment. When the bond with the mother is unsafe or chaotic, explorations are then reduced and the baby prefers to stay close to her for fear of losing her.

However, the very exploration is a good adventure for the baby's self-esteem, which feels more and more capable. If these ever-developing abilities are also perceived by those around it, then its self-esteem is further boosted.

The love of a parent to the child is expressed both verbally and with their behaviour, particularly by spending time with it. Then the child feels worthy and learns to loves itself.

Furthermore, self-esteem is a trait passing from generation to generation to same sex individuals, as parents are the first models the child identifies itself with. So if the mother or father have high or low self-esteem, this will pass to the next generation too and it is therefore important that parents themselves are involved in a self-esteem treatment.

Unwanted teenage pregnancy and the reaction from the girl's environment almost always hurt her self-esteem. Many factors play a role to the extent of damage her selfsense may suffer. The support of her family, her boyfriend, her family beliefs on sexuality etc. come to intervene and determine whether such an event is traumatic or not. Contraception is important, because it makes young girls feel that they are masters of their own will on whether to become a mother or not.

The truth is that the decision for motherhood means a change in many of existing habits of the woman or the couple. If these changes are perceived as sacrifices, then surely we are dealing with a woman of low self-esteem. In contrast, the conscious decision for the birth of a child and conscious change of everyday life to support this wish, seems to be associated with high self-esteem.

We would say that there are two main axes for assessing the self-esteem of pregnant women: whether she feels adequate as a mother and how the change in her body is perceived.

Here, many factors play a significant role on the self-esteem of the pregnant woman:     

  • Whether the pregnancy is voluntary or involuntary. Whether it was accidental or the result of will.
  • The age of the pregnant woman: Very young age of pregnant women usually affects the self-esteem. This is why contraception and the right information are very important.
  • The relationship she has with her mother: Pregnancy is the beginning of maternity and it brings back memories of the relationship the pregnant woman had with her mother. If the relationship was good, it is more likely that the pregnancy will be positively experienced as regards self-esteem, while if it was bad, she may doubt her own adequacy as a mother, and in this case she needs support. Special attention and support is needed for pregnant women whose mothers experienced postpartum depression, as they are more likely to be affected themselves if they do not seek professional help and support.
  • The relationship with her partner. If the partner is present, seems pleased with the pregnancy and supports the girl, then the pregnancy is experienced as a happy event, and this contributes to the growth of the pregnant woman's self-esteem. Also, it is important that she feels the support, and for some time she will not be able to work or do other chores that she may did, like lifting weights or climbing and needs attention (especially during the first three months of the pregnancy).
  • The socio-economic conditions in the period of pregnancy: The sense that one can offer to the child whatever it needs for its proper development is a good prognosis for the self-esteem of pregnant women (as a pretty good carer).
  • The mental maturity of the pregnant woman and her partner.
  • The relationship she has with her body. If this was as good one up to the time of pregnancy, then the change of her body will not threaten her self-esteem.
  • The role she had in the paternal family: The youngest girls seem to have more difficulty in pregnancy, as they usually had the role of the baby darling (possible feelings of inadequacy).
  • The course of pregnancy. Any problems that may threaten the life of the foetus, may be perceived by the pregnant woman as signs that she will not manage to be a good mother.
  • Normal delivery enhances self-esteem of women and gynaecologists should be sensitive to this issue.

Pregnant women should remember two things to shield their self-esteem: that reproduction is the most natural thing in the world and the old Greek saying that “women are like the moon, they can wax and wane..”


Dimitra Stavrou

Psychologist / Dramatherapist

Research Associate SEC

SEC - Self Esteem Center www.sec-aftoektimisi.gr