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Lisa's Articles > Responding to a Child's Poor Self-Image

By Foster Cline, MD and Lisa C. Greene

All parents want to raise a child with a high self image. To get a handle on the responses that raise a high self image, let’s look at the usual reasons for a poor self image.

A poor self image is always the result of self perception. Now self perception may be influenced by peers, parents, and physical factors such as illness, obesity, or self-perceived appearance. No matter the genesis and influence, poor self image is always the result of self-view that falls short of an idealized or wished for model. It’s a feeling of not being good enough compared to others.
Because poor self image has to do with internal perceptions, the hopeful reassuring statements that many parents use are simply not effective:
“You’re doing fine.”
“You’re great the way you are.”
“I think you did a great job.”
"You're beautiful just the way you are."
“Don’t feel that way.”
Such reassurances are often met with an attitude that negates the opinion of hopeful others:
“It doesn’t matter what you think…. I don’t like myself.”
In fact parental reassurance may actually worsen the problem: “Mom takes the way I feel very seriously and tries to talk me out of it so it must be true.”
Overly-reassuring parents validate perceptions and the child appears to require ever more reassurance.
Because of the internal nature of poor self image, Love and Logic parents don’t approach the problem by trying to fix it from the outside, but by asking questions that lead the child to consider alternative views. Until loving questioning becomes second nature, parents may have trouble implementing the Love and Logic problem solving skills. Just as any skill, asking great questions must be practiced. Recently on our web-site a mother asked:
I love your approach of using questions with our children to help them do the thinking rather than telling them what I think. But, I have a hard time coming up with good questions- I just don’t think that fast on my feet! Could you give me a list of good questions to use with my 11 year-old daughter for her health issues (diabetes) and the general parenting issues I also have with her like getting good grades and her attitude?  
The concept of using thought-provoking questions instead of orders, demands and solutions is a thread that runs throughout Love and Logic’s teachings. There are several examples of how parents use questions to discuss difficult issues in the Love and Logic book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.” 
Asking questions instead of providing statements and answers actually requires much less musing or even thinking on the part of the adult. But it may be difficult for a couple of reasons. First, it involves the recognition that adults don’t have all the answers. Even more difficult is the underlying assumption that most people – even children - if asked the right questions come up with their own good solutions. This is a paradigm shift for adults who feel like they should have all the answers. 
We will give you some examples of questions to help get you started. Remember, like all of Love and Logic’s tools, using questions only works when they are asked with sincere curiosity and interest, not sarcasm or as manipulation. 
When a child is in the doldrums because of a self- image issue, exploratory questions are asked after recognizing (not necessarily approving) the child’s feelings:
  • “Gosh you do look upset.”
  • “Honey I’m so sorry you feel that way.”
  • “So I guess things look pretty bleak to you right now, huh?”
After a general empathetic (not necessarily sympathetic) recognition of feelings, then with the child’s permission the questions become more specific:
  • “Would you like to talk it over?”
  • “When did this start?”
  • “I guess you tend to believe what the other kids say? Perhaps that makes things difficult for you.”
  • “I’m wondering if when you don’t do things perfectly, you tend to give yourself a hard time?”
  • “Are there times when you feel really good about yourself? I wonder what happened to those?”
  • “So when other kids do things a little better, do you feel bad about yourself or excited about learning to do things as well?”
 Notice that great questions keep the problem on the child, are not purely reassuring, and encourage thinking and self-evaluation.
We’d like to make a final important point about self image. A poor self image may run in families. Thus the child who is in the doldrums about a paper that could have been better, may be being raised by a parent who wants to make their child feel differently, and are concerned that things aren’t turning out better!
Therefore, it’s very important for parents to set the example and model a completely different response. And without being critical, overbearing or sarcastic, highlight the difference:
“Gosh I’m so sorry you feel that way. If I felt that bad about the situation every time someone said something bad about me, I probably wouldn’t get any sleep at all! I’m so happy I tend to handle things differently. But honey, everyone has to decide for themselves how seriously they take what friends may say.”
Foster W. Cline, MD is a child psychiatrist and co-founder of Love and Logic®. Lisa C. Greene is a parent educator and mom of two children with cystic fibrosis. Together they have written the award-winning book “Parenting Children with Health Issues."Visit  www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com.
Copyright by Foster Cline, MD and Lisa Greene. All rights reserved.  

This website is the sole property of Lisa C. Greene, M.A., CFLE. Lisa is a certified parent coach, certified family life educator, public speaker, and a mom. She is also the co-author with Foster Cline, MD of the award-winning Love and Logic® book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.” For more information,  visit visit www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com.  
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