By Emmanuel Modu

(Excerpted from The Lemonade Stand: A Guide To Encouraging The Entrepreneur In Your Child)

One of the most important characteristics of entrepreneurs is that they have a strong belief in themselves. They have the courage to reach for greater achievements and they believe that they can control their lives and their destinies. This same principle holds true even for child entrepreneurs. The young entrepreneurs we have met through generally have one thing in common: high self–esteem. If you are to encourage the entrepreneur in your children, you must make sure they have a healthy self–concept. With a healthy self–concept, your kids will reach for excellence, and ultimately will be good creative problem solvers—key ingredients in entrepreneurship. In this article, we explain the dynamics of self–esteem and how parents can affect their child’s self–concept

Self–esteem is a measure of how your child feels about himself. When your child is born, he has no self–identity and no self–concept. As he grows, there are two ways he can acquire his self–esteem through:

1.    You and other people in his environment.
2.    His accomplishments.


The parent–child relationship is an extremely important variable in the acquisition of a high or positive self–esteem. Think for a moment about the life of a newborn child. From birth, he depends on his parents for everything: food, shelter, comfort, and love. The manner in which his parents fulfill these needs determines how this child sees himself. If they meet his basic needs, he will feel that his parents value his very existence and this belief creates a stronger sense of self–esteem.

In addition to the influence of his parents, this child’s self–esteem may also be affected by the caretakers outside of the home. The caretakers can affect this child’s sense of self–worth through the manner in which they satisfy the child’s basic needs. Teachers and other relatives can also have similar influences. In short, other humans in his environment have the potential to affect his self–esteem positively or negatively.

Self–esteem is a dynamic quality. It can change daily and can fluctuate from moment to moment. For example, telling a good joke to your friends can make you feel witty, but stumbling in front of a large crowd can embarrass you. In both cases, the duration of the elevation or depression of your self–esteem may vary. You may feel good about the joke for a short while and then quickly forget about your comedic talents. On the other hand, you may forever remember stumbling in front of the crowd and, thus, always feel clumsy.

Self–esteem may also vary according to the activity in which a person is involved. For example, a person who considers himself to be a great tennis player may experience low self–esteem if he gets beaten badly by his tennis partner. Yet this same person’s self–esteem is not threatened if he is beaten in a long–distance race.

Building your child’s self–esteem started from birth. Even though your infant could not communicate verbally, you knew when to fulfill his needs for food, shelter, comfort, and love. You learned to watch for the signals that indicated his desire for these needs. Conversely, he learned to receive signals from you that indicated sadness, joy, contentment, and other emotions.

As your child grows, there are many more ways to build or destroy his self–esteem besides meeting his physical needs. His emotional needs become more important because many of the things he needed you to do for him when he was younger, he can do for himself as he gets older and stronger. As a parent, you should know that the things you do and say have a great impact on how your children see themselves and on their motivation to achieve. This motivation to achieve is one of the driving forces behind entrepreneurial behavior.

The following sections outline some of the factors that can hurt or help your children’s self–esteem and how your children’s self–esteem influences their desire to achieve and to reach their maximum potential. Once you are aware of these factors, you can begin to take positive steps to constantly build your child’s self–esteem. Remember that self–esteem is something you have to work on every single day. The total sum of how you treat your kids will determine what they think of themselves. You have to maintain a sustained effort to bolster their self–esteem on a daily basis.

Psychologist Diana Baumrind grouped parenting styles into three categories: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. Each one of these styles can heavily influence your child’s self–esteem. You should be aware of them so that you can catch yourself when you are behaving in a way that will result in lowering your child’s self–esteem and reduce his achievement motivation.

Authoritarian parenting
Eight–year–old John and his mother are in a shopping center. As they are walking through one of the department stores, he asks his mom for money to buy a piece of candy, but she refuses. He asks why he cannot buy the candy, and she replies angrily, “I don’t have to give you a reason. The answer is no.”

You have probably heard this kind of exchange between a parent and child before. The mother’s statement implies that the child should do what he has been told without question. On the surface this seems like a harmless idea. But, while we want our children to be obedient, we also do not want them to be robots. This mother’s answer cut off all possibilities of discussing the issue. Such dictatorial behavior in family life squelches children’s self–esteem and diminishes their problem–solving capabilities, their creativity, and their achievement motivation.

Authoritarian parents exercise complete control over their children. They rule with an iron fist, and they expect their children to accept their ideas about authority, obedience, work, and other values without questioning the rationale behind them. These parents also have the tendency to reject their children by dwelling on their shortcomings and by ignoring their opinions. Children raised in this manner are generally neither independent nor creative. In addition, because decisions about things that are important to them are being made by their parents, they are unlikely to develop any sense of control over their lives and hence, their self–concept is usually quite low. Steven, now 34 years old, recounts his experience with his authoritarian father. “My father believed that children should be seen and not heard. He was also such a strict disciplinarian. My younger brother was so terrified of him. I think my father’s attitude was the direct cause of my brother’s lack of confidence in himself. To some extent, my father’s attitude towards us affected me the same way.” We certainly recognize that there are times a parent has to be authoritarian such as when a child is immediate danger of harming himself.  But persistent authoritarian behavior will impede his sense of independence and ultimately, his entrepreneurial behavior.  
Permissive Parenting
The permissive parent tends to indulge all of his child’s wishes. If the child is disobedient, the permissive parent does not confront or punish the child. The most glaring aspect of this parenting style is that the parent does not enforce rules of acceptable behavior. Quite often, the child has no sense of social responsibility. He is also likely to be disorderly, overly aggressive, selfish and, most importantly, not particularly independent.

In some cases, children brought up by permissive parents tend to be hard on themselves. Phyllis Fonseca, a licensed social worker in the Boston area, says, “Kids generally need some behavioral boundaries in their lives and if these boundaries are missing, some will impose stricter behavioral standards on themselves or set formidable goals that they can never meet.” A result is that these kids usually have low self–esteem because they can never measure up to their own standards.

Quite often, permissive parents are so because they are too busy to instill some discipline in their kids. This is the case with some so–called high–powered corporate executives. They work seventy hours per week at the office and when they finally see their kids, they allow them to do anything they want out of guilt. They feel so guilty about their absences from the family that they try to make up for lost time by indulging their children with material things. This strategy often backfires for one very good reason: the kids conclude that the parents don’t care enough to spend time with them and are trying to buy them off. This leads to low self–esteem because the children feel unloved and sometimes unwanted.

Authoritative Parenting
Authoritative parents make up rules for acceptable behavior for their children and are consistent in enforcing these rules. However, these parents encourage the exchange of ideas and opinions with their children. They explain their rules and regulations to their children, and they offer them alternatives, thereby encouraging them to exercise their decision–making skills. Authoritative parents also set high achievement standards for their children and are aware of what they should expect at various stages in the cognitive, social, and physical development of their children. These parents are also supportive of their children, but when they misbehave, they are told why their behavior was wrong and are then promptly disciplined. The punishment, whatever the form, is directed at their children’s behavior, and not the children themselves. This parenting style is conducive to the development of high self–esteem.

The Ideal Parenting Style
Obviously no parent is always authoritarian, permissive, or authoritative. These styles are often blended. What is clear, however, is that the best child–rearing practice lies somewhere between exercising complete control over a child and letting him do whatever he pleases.

Total control lowers the child’s self–esteem, which consequently discourages the child’s motivation to succeed. Parental permissiveness does not challenge the child enough for him to learn to pull resources together, compromise, improvise, and become a creative problem–solver because he has no restrictions on his behavior. This is why the authoritative parenting style is the best choice for bringing up well–adjusted, self–reliant, creative children with a high self–concept.

It is important for parents to realize that they can positively or negatively influence their child’s adult life with their child–rearing practices. These practices have a profound effect on their child’s self–esteem, which in turn affects their child’s desire to succeed. Positive influences can be accomplished only by knowing your child’s capabilities and then setting standards of behavior accordingly. Neglecting your child’s feelings and capabilities is a negative influence that will affect your child’s adult life.

Part 2 – Self Esteem Inflators & Deflators