how parents destroy self-esteem

5 Phrases That Destroy Confidence in Sons

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I was honored to coach my son’s football team last season. Our team won every game except for the championship. I wish I could tell you that losing the big game was the most heartbreaking part of the season, but it wasn’t. The most heartbreaking part was hearing the words parents yelled at their sons from the sidelines.

I could hear a dad yell onto the field and I knew who his kid was by the way that kid dropped his head. I learned a lot this past football season about how parents destroy self-esteem. Here are 5 phrases that destroy confidence in our sons.

1.“What are you thinking?”

We have a rule in our house that the kids are not allowed to bring drinks upstairs because we’ve had too many spills. A couple of nights ago, I found my son trying to clean up a spill in his room. “What are you thinking” was on the tip of my tongue when I caught him. But instead of using it—instead of demeaning him—I got down on the floor, helped him clean up the spill, and simply asked if he misunderstood the rules. He agreed that he disobeyed them and was given consequences for his actions. I reinforced the rules without destroying his self-esteem.

2. “Suck it up.”

One of the greatest confidence-building actions we can take for our sons is to believe in them.

During a football game, a player on the other team was visibly upset and hurting. His dad yelled at him—to “suck it up.” I watched the boy line up, get to his position, and look up with tears streaming down his face. This is typically how parents destroy self-esteem. His dad intended to help him but ended up doing the opposite. While our desire may be to toughen and strengthen our kids, saying “suck it up” is negative. A positive alternative would be “you’ve got this.” One of the greatest confidence-building actions we can take for our sons is to reinforce that we believe in them.

3. “What is going on with you?”

As our sons grow, there will be times when they honestly don’t understand what is going on with their bodies, feelings, and emotions. As dads, we should provide a safe place for our kids to come and talk about what’s happening. When we say “what’s going on with you,” we unintentionally communicate that we don’t like what’s happening, which crushes a kid’s confidence. It’s better to ask a question like, “Are you good?” While it’s similar, this comes from a place of curiosity and concern, not frustration.

4. “Are you kidding me?”

At the football field, one of the dads got hit in the back of the head with a football and he turned around he screamed at his son: “Are you kidding me?” He blamed his kid without realizing his kid wasn’t the one who threw the football. I watched his son cower. His dad wouldn’t let him explain what had actually happened. This question causes our sons to walk on eggshells. They become afraid of us. Do your best to watch your reactions in every situation and try to remove this phrase from your vocabulary. Even in the heat of the moment, slow down and respond to the situation appropriately—and that may mean you don’t say anything at all for a few minutes.

5. “Why can’t you be like…?”

During one game, I could hear some parents talking about our star player and how good he is. At halftime, one of the dads came onto the field and I overheard him ask his son a question: “Why can’t you be like Tim?” His quick-witted son responded, “Because my name is Robert.” We laughed, but I could see that what his dad asked had hurt Robert. When we ask a question like this, we are communicating that we don’t think our sons are good enough. But if we want our sons to be confident, we can’t compare our sons to their peers, out loud or otherwise. Embrace who they are and say “I love the way you play” instead.

Earn some points: Are you married? If so, discuss this article with your wife. Then share and discuss this iMOM article with her: 4 Things Moms Need to Stop Saying.

Sound off: What phrases did your dad use growing up that destroyed your confidence?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What are the things I do that most clearly show that I love you?”