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A Child’s need for Love and their Self-esteem

By: Tahera Kassamali
The need to be loved is exceptionally strong in all human beings. From childhood to old age, humans want to be loved by those around them. Love connects people in the strongest of ways. It produces care and concern, without which no one would take the responsibility of looking after others. Love makes the difficulties of life bearable, and helps ease the struggles of life. The love given to a child is more important than any material goods the family can provide.
Life cannot just run on cold and hard rules. The warmth of love is necessary to infuse spirit and joy in life. A home without love, however orderly and organized, has not fulfilled its true purpose. A family is not just a micro-organization where the needs of members are met. This could be done by a state run facility. A family’s outstanding characteristic is that members love one another, and this emotion binds them together.
Love or the lack of it has a profound effect on the lives of children. Their mental capabilities, their fluency of speech, their observations and deductions on life, are all affected by it. That is why Islam emphasizes the display of love to one’s family. The Holy Prophet (s) loved his grandsons dearly, and often showed great affection to them in public.
When Husayn (a) got on his back while he was in sajdah, the Holy Prophet (s) prolonged his sajdah. He could not bear to see his grandsons cry, or get hurt. He encouraged his companions to show affection to their children.

Effects of Love
A child who knows he is loved has a great head start on life.
1. He is happier and calmer. A child who is loved is at peace with the world, and is able to bear disappointments better. Without love, a child’s world is bleak. Such a child often resorts to misbehavior to get attention.
2. He is more confident of himself. He knows that he is worthy of being loved, and that is a great boost to his self-esteem.
3. He can form better relationships with others. A loving relationship with the parents makes the child a kinder, more loving person. Lack of love hardens the heart, and he could become less prone to showing love for others.
4. Has a positive outlook on life. A child who is loved looks at the world with enthusiasm He will be eager to try and experience new things. A loveless home produces a negative outlook, in which the natural curiosity and interest in life is deadened.
5. The child will be more responsive to what parents tell him. Reproaches and scoldings become bearable when he knows he is loved. Parental orders are followed with more enthusiasm.

Letting the child know he is loved
It goes without saying that most parents love their children dearly. It is a natural instinct placed by the Almighty into the heart of all parents. This love for children is a sign of the wisdom of Allah, for without it no parent would have borne all the pains and troubles of raising a child. However, many parents think that children know, without being told, that parents love them. They do not realize that children need to be reassured constantly. The effects of love must be evident in the speech and behavior of the parents. Children do not have the wisdom and insight of adults to realize that even punishments and reproaches are signs of love. They often perceive the actions of the parents as a proof of the lack of love. It is thus very important to display love to the child, or at least inform him about it in subtle ways.
The display of love varies with the age and level of the child. It is most important at the very young age when children need to be cuddled and hugged. For a baby, physical display of love is necessary for positive growth and development. All through the toddler years physical affection remains the most prominent way of displaying love. As the child grows, this changes to less direct ways of showing affection. The occasional physical touch is still necessary, but is not the main way of showing love. Now the child has various needs and desires. To be considerate of his desires, talking to him constantly, reading to him, taking interest in his schoolwork etc. are all part of love. Love shows its bright face in the form of a smile, a tender tone, a patient ear, etc. A parent’s full attention tells the child he is loved enough to warrant it.
The older child has friends who are every important to him. To give importance to his friends is a good way of displaying love for him. Generally speaking, when a parent gives positive attention to the child, apart from the regular chores of bathing, feeding, etc. the child understands that he is loved.

The love of a mother
There is no doubt that the love of a mother is a very special gift from the Almighty for a child. It differs from the love of a father, or the love of any other person. The tender hand of a mother and her soothing voice has calmed many a troubled child. Mothers are thus the main instruments of transmitting love to the child. At its best, the love of a mother is completely unselfish, wanting nothing in return for the tremendous amounts of time and energy spent in raising the children.
From the time of birth, when a child knows the mother as a source of food and comfort, and all through childhood, the mother is the main caregiver for the child. The atmosphere at home depends on the nature of the mother. A loving, caring mother can do a great deal to make her family a happy and emotionally healthy family.

Unconditional Love
Some parents only love their children if they fulfill certain expectations. Gender sometimes plays a great role. So a boy after a few daughters elicits great affection and attention. Some families just prefer boys, even if they have equal numbers of both. Such gender biases are greatly condemned in Islam. The Holy Prophet (s) had a daughter at a time when daughters were disliked. He showed great love and respect for her despite the taunts of the Arabs.
Some parents only show their love for the child if he is attractive, behaves well, and generally lives up to their expectations. Such a love is conditional. If the child brings a good report card, he is showered with praise and affection. A bad report card will not only bring reproach for the low marks, but will make the child feel completely rejected. Parents often forget that it is only a particular act that should be condemned, not the child in general. A child who obeys is praised for his obedience, but loved for himself. In the same way, a child who is disobedient is reproached for his disobedience, but still loved for himself. Many parents fail to draw the line and make their love conditional to the acts of the child. All children have faults, and the parental reaction to these faults sometimes convinces a child that he is not loved at all. It is necessary that parents ensure that the child understands it is only his act that is disliked and not he himself. A child deserves the unconditional love of the parents.

Excessive Love
A potential danger for many parents is excessive love for the children. It is often difficult to control the intensity of emotion one feels for a child. Thus a child may be showered with a lot of love, often misdirected. Everything in excess is harmful, and too much love is detrimental to the child. The fifth Imam, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a) has said: The worst of parents are those who transgress the limits in their love and goodness to their children.
Excessive love is when a parent pampers the child, refusing to let him face any trouble or difficulty, tending to his every need, and giving in to his desires. Its results could include:
1 -The child becomes totally reliant on the parents. Even as he grows, the chances of emotional and mental maturity are slim. He has less courage and feels offended easily. He becomes more like a soft egg which needs constant protection.
2 - The demands of the child who is excessively loved are unending. He will constantly want more – more attention, more treats, more toys etc. When refused or frustrated, he will resort to whining and complaining.
3 - He may become very egoistic, and expect the same degree of attention from others in his life. The child feels that he is the center of the world for his parents, and thus all things should revolve around him. He believes he has no faults, or at least none that others can perceive. This elevated perception of himself often lands him in trouble, especially when others do not see him in the same way.
4 - When others will not give him the same attention and pampering he has known from his parents, he will be unable to bear the disappointment. Often such people lose confidence in themselves, and feel they are not worth much as they have not been granted the degree of attention they believe is their due.

Wise Words
1. Kiss your children often, for every display of affection will raise your status in Heaven. Holy Prophet (s)
2. Allah has mercy on a parent who loves his child greatly. Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq (a)

Self-esteem and Children
Self-esteem is defined as feeling oneself worthy of the respect of others. All human beings have an innate desire to be respected and liked. They want others to look up to them. There is great wealth in self-esteem. It brings confidence in one’s own abilities, and helps in initiating and achieving one’s goals. Feeling good about oneself brings peace and happiness to the heart. It boosts the spirit and produces noble characters and lofty ideas.
Self-esteem is different from vanity. When a person has some good qualities and/or abilities, to know that and be thankful for it, is self-esteem. To be proud about it, and to think oneself to be better than others is vanity. There is a fine line between the two, but a basic difference is the understanding that all that is good in one-self comes from Allah. That eliminates all feelings of pride and leaves only gratitude for it, and the desire to be able to use it in the best way.
From a very young age, children show a desire for respect and attention. They show off in order to get praise. Sometimes when attention is not forthcoming, they revert to negative behavior such as fighting and screaming in order to get attention. There are various views on the origins of this desire for respect. Some psychologists believe it stems from a natural desire for success over others. Others say it comes from a love of self, an egoism inherent in all human beings. Religious scholars believe that within the human resides a Divine spirit. Almighty Allah says in the Qur’an: So when I have made him complete, and breathed into him of My spirit fall down into prostration to him (15:29). This Divine spirit, with its greatness and nobility, propels the human being towards dignity and respect. He needs to be valued, and would not naturally put himself in a derogatory or lowly position. The Creator Himself has respected the human being when He says:
And indeed We have honored the son of Adam. (17:70)
Thus the human being has the expectation that others will also respect him in this world. Whatever be the origin of the desire for respect, all scholars believe that a healthy self-esteem is a vital ingredient for the progress and success of the human being. The roots of this important quality are often built, or destroyed, in childhood.

Advantages of a healthy self-esteem
1. The child who knows that he has some good qualities that others respect is satisfied with himself. This will translate into rational and calm behavior. There will be no need for tantrums and aggressiveness to demand attention. A child with self-esteem is a happy child.
2. Such a child values himself, and knows that he has a certain respect and dignity. Thus there will be lesser chances for him to become involved in acts which lower the status he envisions for himself. A child who respects himself will not easily give in to peer pressure to perform immoral and indecent acts. He would realize that it is beneath himself to stoop to it.
3. A child with self-esteem will try harder to achieve high goals. He knows he is capable of good, and can set lofty targets to achieve. He will have the initiative to start things and get involved in various activities.

When self-esteem is lacking
1. The child gives in to wrong more easily. He is easily swayed by others as it is difficult to be firm on one’s own principles when there is no confidence in oneself. The views and opinions of others will carry great weight. Such children run a higher risk of succumbing to peer pressure and joining unseemly groups.
2. A child who has no self-esteem accepts failure as his lot. He will not try to challenge himself, or have high expectations of himself. He does not think he has the ability to achieve anything good. This resignation to failure sets ground for future defeats, and the lack of struggle to progress in life.
3. He suffers more from negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, frustration etc. A child who has confidence in himself, can accept another child’s success as he knows that he too is successful. But when that consolation is absent, jealousy is a natural reaction. Often there is anger at oneself, or even at others who may be seen as responsible for the failures. There is then little room for happy, healthy feelings necessary to make the child an emotionally stable human being.

How to foster self-esteem in a child
Having seen the importance of self-esteem in the life of a child, many people wonder what can be done to ensure that a child has a healthy sense of self-esteem. There is much that parents can do, or avoid doing, that will help the child to respect himself. The following points are not meant to raise the child on a pedestal, and turn him into a proud, selfish brat. When doled out in moderation, these tactics will help foster a feeling a sense of self-worth. All parents should use discretion in their individually unique circumstances to avoid over indulging and spoiling the child. These points are given only as guidance.

Show respect to the child
Many parents do not feel it necessary to respect the child. They expect respect, but believe that respecting the child will amount to spoiling him. However respect for the child in the following ways will help the child feel good about himself, as well as respect the parent more willingly:
a) Talk to the child in a normal voice or tone. Don’t belittle the child by talking in a childish voice. Talk to him constantly, not only when you want to scold him or tell him to do something. Talk about everyday affairs; school, work, political issues, stories from your past, etc. etc. Some parents believe that because children do not understand at the level of adults, there is not much use in talking to them. But children who are talked to more often become more understanding and insightful than those who are not. These children feel a sense of communication with the parents, and know that their parents deem them worthy of a conversation. It is a great boost in confidence.
b) When scolding the child, do not totally destroy his feeling of self-worth. Reprove him for a particular action rather than a general “you are good for nothing” attitude which, if dealt out constantly, will lead the child to actually believe it. As quick as parents are to point out a wrong act, they should remember there are good qualities also present in the child.
c) Listen to his ideas and opinions. When the child wishes to say what he thinks of something, encourage him to talk. Don’t ridicule or put him down. A child will not have the wisdom of an adult but deserves to be listened to so that he will be forthcoming in his views in future. Dismissing a child’s opinions as unworthy is a perfect way to suppress any thoughtfulness or creativity in the child.
d) Sometimes speak positively about him to others. When a child hears himself being talked about positively, he feels that it is a sincere appreciation. It need not be long praises, or undeserved praise. But when the child does something good, mention it to a relative, or a friend, etc. This will seem more genuine and have more effect than a word of praise to the child himself. Parents who criticize and complain about the child to others, in front of the child, often ruin any feeling of self-worth the child may have. Sometimes parents and relatives act as if the child cannot hear. They discuss him in his presence, comparing him to others and mentioning the bad qualities he has. This has a very negative effect on the child.

Teach the child to think highly of himself
Encourage him to set goals and have high expectations of himself. In school and Madrasah and any other activities he may be involved in, help him to do well and to achieve the utmost possible with his capabilities. A push of encouragement from the parent, as well as concerned interest, helps the child try hard in his daily activities. Teach him that certain things are below his dignity. These could include complaining too much, asking for things from others, getting into trouble with authority etc. The child will become habituated to a certain type of behavior. Anything below that will seem unworthy for himself.

Make him familiar with stories of great people
Children love stories, and these are a great medium for imparting valuable lessons. When the children are young and rely on parents to read to them, use the opportunity to read inspiring stories of great people. Many Islamic books for children are available these days, and Muslim parents should make good use of them. Even when reading secular stories, search your local libraries for stories that will inspire the child towards good virtues. Heroes and their heroic actions are often imprinted in the minds of the child, and this will do more to push him towards noble behavior than a lecture from the parents. Manipulate the interest in stories to gain a sense of respect and dignity for noble behavior.

Listen to the child’s wishes
Sometimes a child is opposed to what the parent wishes him to do. This could be as simple as an enforcement of bedtime, wearing of appropriate clothes, or going for a particular outing, etc. The child may have a different view as to what should be done. A good parent would listen to what the child has to say. This does not mean that the parent gives in to the child, or lets him do as he wishes. It just means that the parent respects the child’s opinions although not necessarily following it. The child will eventually do as the parent wishes, but will feel that he was listened to.

Practical Do’s & Don’ts for fostering self-esteem
Do give your child responsibility at home. Give him basic duties and chores, according to his age, to do around the house. It is important that the child feels he is part of the household and is needed for the daily work that goes into running the home.
Do talk to him about major changes or decisions being made for the family. If a new house is being bought, or a job is being changed, let the child know about it. Often parents leave the child completely out of important decisions being made.
Do teach him not to accept undue praise or flattery. The child likes to be praised but should only accept it when deserved.
Don’t interfere in everything your child does. The child needs some space for healthy independence and originality. If he wishes to arrange his things in a particular way, for example, or plans something for himself, let him do it so long as it is not wrong in any serious way. Some parents expect children will do everything exactly as they wish, and fuss over every small detail in the child’s life. Such a child grows up to feel he cannot make any decisions for himself.
Don’t pamper the child too much when he is sick, or hurt. The child should be taught to be strong and bear a little pain. If allowed to whine and cry a great deal, the child may learn to be a complainer and will be unable to bear difficulties.
Don’t ignore the child when you have company. When a family has guests, Islamic etiquette demands that the host pay great respect to the guests. This does not mean however, that children should be ignored and brushed aside. Instead the parent should encourage the child to be part of the gathering, and involve him with the guests.

Wise Words
1.Allah has decreed everything for a believer, except that he humiliate himself. Holy Prophet (s)

A lesson from the Life of the Prophet
One day the Prophet was sitting with his companions when he saw a young child in the group. Having a great love for children, he called him and sat him on his lap. The people around him watched as the Prophet (s) gave his attention to the child. Suddenly the boy, over-awed perhaps, urinated on the lap of the Prophet(s). Embarrassed, the father sprang forward. “What have you done, you silly boy” he shouted. His arm shoved forward to grab the child away from the Prophet(s), his red face showing his anger. Fear and confusion showed in the face of the child. The Prophet(s) restrained the man, and gently hugged the child to him. “Don’t worry,” he told the over-zealous father. “This is not a big issue. My clothes can be washed. But be careful with how you treat the child” he continued. “What can restore his self-esteem after you have dealt with him in public like this?”

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