When parents boast about their children to other adults in front of their own children they generally have good intentions. While in some cases they are trying to look good themselves by showing off the successful results of their parenting, usually they want to make their children feel good and thereby enhance their self-esteem.
Ironically, the effect is the opposite. Children are natural detectors of in-authenticity, manipulation, exaggeration, and false praise. They sense when their parents are trying hard to boost their self-esteem. It tells them they think their self-esteem needs boosting. So they must be inadequate.
Kids, especially teenagers, don’t like their parents to talk about them. It’s annoying to them because it places unwanted expectations on them. They want to be separate and individual beings, not dreams and expectations of their parents. Nor do they like feeling that they have to be exceptional to be worthy. They want to be valued for their more subtle uniqueness, which they don’t want to have analyzed by their parents either.
Children develop self-esteem by being in an environment where they develop skills, contribute to others, and have some freedom to express their individuality. Self-esteem is developed when parents are able to set boundaries and have reasonable expectations of their children. (It’s helpful to remember that it’s natural for children to test boundaries and to act disrespectfully at times in order to create separateness.)
Instead of raving about your children’s talents in front of them, it’s better to develop a good relationship with them. This involves knowing when a child needs space or attention, that is, being there to provide support, warmth, and boundaries without being intrusive or meddlesome. What counts is developing mutual respect and being able to talk and listen to your children, not boasting about them.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD