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Christopher Mruk, Ph.D.


Authentic Self-Esteem and Well-Being XIII: Tips For Parenting

How the two-factor approach to self-esteem helps parents and children.

Parenting Styles that Help Develop Authentic Self-Esteem in Children

Most parents know that fostering healthy self-esteem in their children is an important responsibility. Consequently, I am often asked if there is anything special that the two-factor approach to self-esteem can offer in terms of guidance. As discussed throughout all sections of this blog, this approach to self-esteem sees it as the result of effectively dealing with life’s problems, which requires competence, but doing so in a way that is honorable, which is to say worthy. I usually tell them that the research on effective parenting indicates that of the three or four major parenting styles, only one of them is associated with healthy self-esteem in children (Mruk, 2013).

This approach is described as the “authoritative” style of parenting (Baumrind, 1966) and is based on several basic principles parents can use. They include setting high standards for children to strive toward in life, providing opportunities for children to develop the skills necessary to be successful in these ways, consistently reinforcing those standards in age-appropriate ways, providing age-appropriate learning opportunities and encouragement, and creating a general atmosphere of love and acceptance. Of course, no parent is perfect, so slipping into other parenting styles from time to time occurs as well, but those who foster authentic self-esteem take the authoritative approach to parenting most of the time.

Fostering Both Competence and Worthiness

Parents who set high but not excessive or rigid standards help children by giving them a clear sense of direction in terms of what types of goals to be set and how to learn the skills necessary to reach them. This framework lets a child know what to aim for, how to make good rather than poor choices, and promotes the concept of trying to do one’s best when dealing with a challenge. Parents help this process by becoming actively involved in regard to such things as academics (schoolwork), athletic or artistic endeavors (such as sports or music), and activities that promote the development of prosocial skills (including clubs, church groups, and school organizations). Increasing children’s competence in these areas helps them have the positive experiences necessary to acquire what is called competence.

However, fostering the development of competence is only half of the parental picture when it comes to authentic self-esteem. Authoritative parenting also involves creating the type of home environment and relationships with children that allow them to know they are loved, which is to say that they are seen and accepted for who they are as individuals. Carl Rogers called this parental attitude “unconditional positive regard” (1951). It is also very helpful when a child experiences meaningful setbacks, encounters disappointment, fails at something important or suffers rejection, all of which happen in childhood, just like adulthood.

Avoiding Common Self-Esteem Parenting Mistakes

The two-factor approach to fostering the development of healthy self-esteem in children also helps us understand how parents can make two types of what might be called self-esteem mistakes. One is to overemphasize success, something which may be seen in situations where parents excessively push their children to do well. If done too often, fostering competence over worthiness in this way may even be developmentally dangerous: It can lead to such things as being an anxious overachiever, unhappily perfectionistic, or even result in antisocial behavior associated with bullying or winning at any cost. Similarly, accepting anything a child does or constantly smothering children with praise is just as likely to create problems with self-esteem, only this time in terms of their sense of worthiness. Such parental indulgence may “spoil” a child, create false expectations for adult life, or even set the stage for narcissism. Few parents want these or related outcomes for their children.

Unfortunately, parents can be seen making these two types of mistakes all too often. For example, they frequently occur at competitive events where winning becomes more important than enjoying the game or playing it well. Overemphasizing one self-esteem factor over the other may contribute to a child bullying other children at school or on the playground. So-called “tiger” parents trying to raise super-achievers or “helicopter” parents who do way too much for their children are in danger of making the same mistakes when it comes to authentic self-esteem.

By contrast, parents who try their best to use the authoritative approach actually foster both competence and worthiness. Setting worthy standards, reinforcing them in age-appropriate ways, encouraging skill development, and appreciating a child’s strengths while understanding their weakness nurtures the development of authentic self-esteem. Indeed, the research on authoritative parenting makes it clear that children reared under these conditions tend to have higher self-esteem, which is associated with such things as greater self-reliance, less susceptibility to social pressure, more social competence, and higher motivation (Rathus, 2013). It is the balance of these two factors that matters when it comes to authentic self-esteem and what parents would want less for their children?



Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37(4), 887-907.

Mruk, C.J. (2013). Self-esteem and Positive Psychology: Research, theory and practice (4e). New York: Springer Publishing Co.

Rathus, S. A. (2013). Psychology: Concepts and Connections (9e). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.