Note: This article was published, citation information below.


Ang, M. (2005). Self-Esteem. In ParenThink. magazine, Chinese edition. June 2005 issue.

The biggest single hindrance I have observed that prevents Malaysian young people from fulfilling their potential as human beings is lack of self-acceptance or self-confidence, in other words poor self-esteem. This probably stems from the Asian culture where from young parental praise and encouragement is considered taboo, with parents instead publicly continuously criticising their children in the belief it is good for them.

Research shows the exact opposite is in fact true. Children who are criticized by their parents, who are compared against their older siblings, cousins and children of their parents’ friends, who hear their parents tell others that “no, my son is not clever” or “my daughter is very lazy” although these same parents know that this is not true but only say so out of fear of attracting “bad” spirits to their children – these are the children who grow up to be insecure adults, who never really truly achieve their fullest potential simply because they believe they couldn’t possibly be good enough, after all even daddy and mommy always said so. It is a rare Asian who has true self-confidence. I am absolutely certain that even those of you reading this article now feel that, deep down inside, you yourselves are just somehow not as good, not as smart, not as pretty, not as (fill in the blank yourself!)…

Why this never ending struggle with our self-esteem? From where do these negative emotions arise?

It all goes back to our earliest childhood. Babies are born in this world absolutely and utterly helpless. Unlike other baby animals, human babies actually die if left to fend for themselves after they are born. We were made this way; it is God’s unique design for the human race.

So babies need their mommies. They really do. They need us to feed them when they are hungry, clothe them when they are naked, wash them when they have soiled themselves. These are physical needs, and no Asian parent would ever neglect these. But humans are not merely physical beings. We have spirits and souls. We have deep rooted emotional needs that are no less important than our physical ones. Thus babies also need to be cuddled so they know they are loved. They need to be picked up when they are lonely, not only when they are hungry. They need to feel the warmth of their mommy’s body when they are cold. This is the beginning of self-esteem. To know one is truly loved. Don’t forget that baby has spent the first nine months of his existence inside mommy’s womb. It is an emigration of epic proportions for baby to leave that comfort zone and be thrust into the “real world” when he is born.

If all baby’s needs are consistently and lovingly met, the seeds of self-esteem are already firmly taking root. If the reverse is true, baby grows up feeling he isn’t really important, he doesn’t really matter – after all, nobody really cares when he cries out for some love and affection. And parents, especially mommies but also daddies, please never make the mistake that somebody else can fill this role for you. Unless you are dead, in which case children do grow up and one day understand, if you yourselves do not respond to your child but leave it to your own mother or a maid to respond when they seek your attention and approval, you are planting the seeds of self-doubt; the antithesis of self-esteem. Your children may seem to be ok on the surface, but deep down inside they honestly feel they must somehow be not good enough, or else why did my own mommy (or daddy to a slightly lesser extent) not love me enough to pick me up when I was down or hold me tight when I was afraid? Isn’t that how many of you who are reading this now feel; if you are completely honest with yourself? Unless of course you are one of the minority of blessed ones whose parents really did consistently and lovingly meet all your needs. Throughout childhood, this need for parental love and approval continues. From baby’s first step, to his first tooth, to his first day at school, to his first sports day, to his first report card… and not only firsts but on a continuing basis… your child needs to know that you love and are proud of him. You need to tell him this. You cannot assume he knows it if you never show it to him. Speak, and also act, because actions speak louder than words, though both are required. Be there for him. If you do not spend time with your children, it is guaranteed they will lack self-esteem. After all, even mommy and/or daddy don’t find me worth spending their time with. Money and material gifts do not make up for lack of affection and parental presence. And when you are present, remember that that alone is not enough either – you need to speak your approval out loud, tell your child how proud you are of him when he achieves something, even something small. Tell him you love him, hug him when he does well, and also for no reason at all. This is the basis of lasting self-esteem.


Copyright ©2005 Minni Ang