‘The Help:’ How to raise kids with healthy self-esteem?

I finally got to see “The Help” this weekend and wept my way through it. I have many thoughts and feelings on the movie, but I wanted to hit one particular aspect in this blog: raising a child with healthy self-esteem.

We saw poor toddler Mae Mobley whose mother didn’t want to hold her or change her. Because Mae Mobley’s mother thought she wasn’t going to end up beautiful, she wasn’t giving her the time of day. In steps maid Abileen to give her love and help boost the poor child’s ego.

Abileen would make the child repeat daily: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Then there’s the adult Skeeter who completely relates to poor Mae Mobley’s plight. Skeeter is smart and articulate but unfortunately has curly hair that frizzes in the Mississippi humidity! And her mother does not find that acceptable or attractive. How will Skeeter ever find a husband as unfortunate looking as she is?  Despite her mother’s criticism the grown Skeeter is confident thanks to her maid Constantine who helped feed her self esteem as a child.

A former school teacher of mine told me recently that the kids she is teaching now are constantly seeking praise and reinforcement that they are good and worthwhile. She thinks that they aren’t getting that at home but isn’t sure what has changed.

So I am wondering: Do you think you are hurting your child’s self esteem with criticism of appearance or ability? Do you actively try to reinforce good feelings about themselves? Do you have an ego-boosting mantra for your kids? What do you find is most effective way to raise kind, loving kids who aren’t full of themselves but do feel good?

40 comments Add your comment


August 29th, 2011
1:34 am

I think your former school teacher friend has it backwards — the kids are constantly seeking praise and reinforcement because they have been constantly fed ill-conceived self-esteem “boosters” for their entire young life — and now constantly need that outside validation of their self-worth. It doesn’t come from within — it’s not “self” — because they have somehow learned that their only source of approval and validation must come from outside of themselves. They do not have confidence in their ability to make good decisions — often because they haven’t been allowed to by helicopter parents.

Self-esteem is something that comes from within — no one can give it to you. It comes from the inner confidence that you are capable of dealing with what life throws at you in age-appropriate doses, because you have been gradually building success in dealing with life problems as you have been growing up, from learning how to care for yourself, to learning how to meet the expectations of authority figures (teachers, parents), learning how to learn (education), and then becoming a contributing member of society.

Kids don’t “feel good about themselves” because we give them permission to and recite silly “mantras” to them. They feel good about themselves when they are secure (i.e., a family life that is safe, secure and happy), they aren’t terrified of making a mistake and being “less than perfect”, and are confident in their own abilities. So many kids turn to drugs and alcohol because they don’t feel good about themselves — their families are a disaster, the expectations on them are unrealistic, and haven’t been allowed to do anything for themselves their entire life out of a misplaced sense of protection and safety.

Kind, loving kids become that way because that is the behavior that is modeled for them — they have kind, loving parents who have taught them that they are not the center of their self-esteem world and that other people matter.


August 29th, 2011
1:40 am

@TWG: Did you really think that Skeeter was “confident” in the movie? I didn’t think so — part of the charm of Skeeter writing the book was Skeeter learning how to take the reins of her own life and doing what she thought was right. Allowing herself to be dragged around as an unwilling date and not telling Hilly exactly what she thought of her “Home Health Sanitation Initiative” the moment she heard about it didn’t really scream ‘confidence’ to me. Part of the movie’s charm was watching Skeeter’s confidence in her ability and courage to do the right thing grow.


August 29th, 2011
5:11 am

Everyone at some point has self confidence issues. It’s part of growing up. Heck, it’s part of adulthood sometimes. Some people are going to have more than others, just like any other characteristic. But, given the number of times in the last 15 years that I’ve seen people wi wayyyyyy too much “self esteem”, it seems the wrong people are taking too many of these classes.


August 29th, 2011
6:47 am

DB must have a pocketful of hammers, cause she is hitting a lot of nails on the head.

We have two “kinds” of kids today: Those who are praised for every breath they manage to take (and mama manages the rest). These kids expect constant validation. In some areas these kids are more prevalent than others.

The other “kind” is kids growing up with a big void around them. I see a lot of this. These are kids basically raising themselves. No one praises them. The kids just try to survive. I see a growing number of this kind.


The way to “get” self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of efficacy is to have appropriate challanges and conquer them. These can be things like pouring your own juice at age 4, or scoring well on a test in your hardest subject. It is not given to you, but you have he chance to earn it for yourself by pushing, testing yourself and succeeding. (It wouldn’t be a big self-esteem boost to pour your own juice at age 10, for example, unless you were handicapped.)

We don’t give self-esteem–we make sure the challenges are there and then we get out of the way! We don’t treat everything as a major miracle/victory. And, for the other “kind” of kid, we teachers try to provide the stability, challenge, and accountability those kids need but don’t get.


August 29th, 2011
6:59 am

I am going to have to agree with DB. Our society is all about praise.
How many times do you hear someone tell their child they are “smart”? Why would you praise someone on something that was given to them? That is like praising a child for having blonde hair. Praise should be given but it should be given for effort. When a child works really hard at something, lets praise them for trying their best. I believe that a child will feel good about themselves when they learn that their support group is behind them (parents, teachers,etc) not from praise. Too much praise given will cheapen praise.

interesting article on praise http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/


August 29th, 2011
7:40 am

Good points today. My parents were always very critical of us. We could never meet their expectations. I do not recall ever being told by my parents, ” I am proud of you and you did a wonderful job.”

We did not have a safe, secure nor happy family growing up. Happy is not a word I would select to describe our relationship both then and now. @ catlady, I grew up in that void and do not want my children to repeat it.

I discussed this with my sister, after we saw The Help together. It was a telling moment for us. There were tears.

I do tell my kids, often, that I am proud of them for their age appropriate achievements, not for fluff.

Everyone wants to be valued. For me, it is NOT for my clothes, my looks, my car, my neighborhood, my dog, my house etc. Those things can vanish in a minute and many folks today who held on to being appreciated for social standings are seeing how the tables can turn quickly. I want to be valued for who I am as a person and the contribution I can make to society. Those maids were beautiful people and they made an impact on other people’s lives. I am thrilled to call all sorts of people my friends, who are not necessarily ( but could be) elegant people and want to impress me with their social standing. I am pleased to enjoy them for who they are. I have never ridden in their car, been to their house, eaten on their dishes etc.

OFF topic but I wanted to share. I read somewhere that Spray and Wash and Resolve have merged and something about using Resolve carpet cleaner for stains in clothes. I bought a bottle of Generic Resolve, at the Dollar Store. I had a teal green shirt with a stain in the front and Spray and Wash did not take it out. The $1 Generic Resolve DID. I am excited. Test at your risk! I am stocking up!

Tad Jackson

August 29th, 2011
8:01 am

Always look for the positive in everything children and young people do. Always.



August 29th, 2011
8:27 am

DB gt it exactly right. Kids learn self confidence by –gasp!– FAILING every now and then, learning from their mistake and trying again until they succeed.

We’ve taught our children that they DESERVE praise for doing what they SHOULD be doing. No. Praise is EARNED and it’s earned by going above and beyond what’s expected. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be perfect. We all have various strengths and weaknesses….it’s being able to rise above the harder tasks in our lives that should earn praise.

We’re creating a world of weak, unsure, incapable children…who will grow into weak, incapable adults….


August 29th, 2011
8:28 am

MJG–my mom was rather like that. After she died I found out she had bragged of my accomplishments to friends and neighbors. Too bad I didn’t know it! I also had far too many people tell me, “I wish I had tried to help you with your mother, but you know how she was–she never was satisfied with any way but her way.” THAT just about killed me–they knew the kind of pain she was inflicting but did not step to help me.

Luckily for me, I had a dad that supported me and helped me develop a sense of self-efficacy.


August 29th, 2011
8:35 am

I loved the movie, and really want to see it again, and again, and again……It definately is worthy of an Academy nod…..


August 29th, 2011
8:37 am

Thank you AJC.com. You’ve made my morning.

With all due respect to his family, this is the funniest headline I’ve ever read:
“Cumming man dies fishing”


August 29th, 2011
8:47 am

@catlady thanks…whenever I see Grandparents fawn over their grandchildren, it makes me happy for those kids as my parents could never be bothered with their own kids or grandkids. I typically cannot drop everything I am doing anytime and run to rescue my children but they know I am there for them when they need me and that I can count on them. We recently heard a song in church about running to the Father’s arms and knowing He is there. I thought how sad it is that I never felt that way with my own Father. My husband is fabulous about being there for our kids…he has helped them in so many ways. I want my own two to be independent but if they need me. I am right behind them.

TWG..what about the comment ( in the movie) that Mae Mobley’s Mother should not have kids. We often wonder why our own Mother had us, as she did not seem to enjoy motherhood. She grew up right in that era but not in the south and lived in an area where this was simply what you did….get married and have kids.


August 29th, 2011
8:48 am

ooops…they can count on me but I can typically count on my two also!


August 29th, 2011
8:51 am

Gotta agree with DB and others, the need for validation does not come from lack of it at home, it comes from the every kid gets an award for participating mentality. How do you plan on having self esteem in the real world when you get an award for coming in last? You make yourself better by improving. Every time you do better than before you gain confidence. If everything a kid does is “perfect” where is there to go?


August 29th, 2011
9:02 am

Sorry folks, but some of you have it wrong.

Parental involvement is key to helping kids form accurate, healthy self-perceptions. Among other things, parents need to be a positive role model, identify and redirect their child’s inaccurate beliefs, be spontaneous and affectionate, give positive, accurate feedback, help kids become involved in constructive experiences.


August 29th, 2011
9:12 am

I agree that praise may be over the top these days, but for those people who don’t get any praise at all or are never recognized, like Mae Mobley, you have no idea what it means to her for someone to think she is kind, smart, and important, especially when her mother could care less what she feels about herself.


August 29th, 2011
9:32 am

@M1chelle: Simply telling a child they are important isn’t going to cut it — children are smart, and they catch on quickly when your words don’t match up to your actions. You can tell them all day long they are important, but if you don’t make time for them, if you don’t listen to them and you don’t put their needs first when appropriate, they soon distinguish between lip service and reality.


August 29th, 2011
9:35 am

DB is right! The constant iver praise and “everybody must win” mentality doesn’t help kids self esteem -it makes them unable to handle defeat or to live without constant praise. Of course parents need to be hands-on and involved, and children need praise and attention, but they don’t need blue ribbons when they come in third or to be told outright lies about their abilities and efforts. Mae Mobley’s mom clearly was only having kids becayse that’s what she was supposed to do. I got the feeling from her character in both the book and the movie that she may have been kinder to the child if the girl had been perfect-looking, but she still wouldn’t have wanted too much to do with her (or the boy she had). For me I saw the relationship between Aibeleen and MM as not only one where Abileen tried to instill confidence in the child but also where Abileen offered great comfort and security to her, and ultimately that’s where TRUE self-esteem comes from -feeling secure enough to try and risk and fail sometimes without those failures destroying you.


August 29th, 2011
9:39 am

Sorry for the typos! I hate posting from an iPhone.


August 29th, 2011
9:47 am

@MJG -I loved the line and allusion in the film that MM’s mother shouldn’t have kids and that many of these women were only having them because that’s what women were supposed to do. Sad but true -many MANY folks have been born to people who should have never been parents simply because that’s what they were supposed to do. There have always been women who didn’t really like or want kids, I’m just glad that now in at least many parts of the world they no longer feel they must have them!

I wish MM could have gone and lived with Celia Foote. She may have grown up a tad neurotic, but she would have been loved to pieces!


August 29th, 2011
10:15 am

@TWG — hey, new picture? Or am I just now noticing it? Nice!


August 29th, 2011
10:29 am

@ JATL…Yes, Celia was funny. Since I have moved around so much during my life, I have experienced being the outsider and new person in the area. My husband was enlisted in the Navy and many of the young officer’s wives acted ( to me) just like they did to Celia. Of course, I did NOT possess her looks. It was very frustrating to me as some of them snagged their husbands before they finished college themselves and never completed their education. Not an issue with me but I was teaching their children and they looked down on me as my husband was not a commissioned officer. These were typically the younger ones, in their mid twenties. The older officer’s wives, who had an education themselves and often a career to boot, were delightful. My daughter is named after a precious Kindergarten student whose Dad was a Navy Captain and Mom was a teacher herself. A precious child whose name I liked. She was in the first class I ever taught and the Mom was an ally for me…she often stopped by to let me know that she thought I was doing a great job and that her daughter loved my class. That was almost 30 years ago.


August 29th, 2011
10:42 am

TWG…ditto on the picture…it looks nice!

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

August 29th, 2011
10:42 am

the help was fiction, right? Cool….it was a little too chick lit for me…another one of those movies that makes my uterus quiver when I see the trailer for it. But I’m totally down with the notion that fictional characters are a great way to take cues on child rearing….why else would I have told my son this morning…”remember, with great power comes great responsibility”.


August 29th, 2011
10:50 am

@ tiger… yes it was fiction. To my knowledge, Kathryn Stockett, had 60 rejection letters before the book was ever published and now it is been very popular at the box office. This lesson, to me, is perseverance. A lesson I want my own two kids to know and have already mentioned to them…about this book.

Jesse's Girl

August 29th, 2011
11:06 am

I tell my children..2 girls and a boy…ages 14, 12 and 8 respectively…that I love them and am so very thankfulf or them. They come tome with big and small issues, knowing I will listen and respond in an as-needed way. However…as much asI would give life and limb for my kids..I also also impart to them something that I fear not enough parents do. I tell them that ” No…you cannot in fact do anything you set your mind to. Sometimes we want something very much and try our hardest to bring it to fruition. But it doesn’t always work out that way. The trick is to always try your hardest no matter what.” Our children know that we love and support them…and will continue to do so through out their lives. But they also don’t get continual praise and applause from us either. Just as they need to grow and develope an inner strength, resolve and confidence…they also need to know that things aren’t always rosey with sprinkles of awesomeness. Sometimes, you get off the ride thankful for the experience and learn from the trials. But you’ll always be able to come to mommy for comfort food….and wine when you’re of age:)

Father Jane Goose

August 29th, 2011
11:19 am

Today’s children have too much self esteem and not enough of a dose of reality – failure. This is due to the poor, weak helicopter parenting skills which have evolved over the last few decades. Today, every child gets a ribbon, little league doesn’t keep score so we don’t have any “losers” – after all, children must be told they are all special, smart and clever. Constant praise, not enough of a dose of reality called failure and consequences. Parents who hover over their children like Theresa praising them on and on no matter what they do, win or fail is just terrible parenting. They then send their children into the world to work for someone like me who does not put up this generational praise movement, and they crack.

Be careful what you are raising in your children for one day they will work for me.


August 29th, 2011
11:28 am

Like the new picture!


August 29th, 2011
11:53 am


“another one of those movies that makes my uterus quiver when I see the trailer for it.”

I spit my drink out reading that. LOL!


August 29th, 2011
11:54 am

Another thumbs up on the new photo!


August 29th, 2011
11:58 am

Father Jane Goose,

“Be careful what you are raising in your children for one day they will work for me.”

Yeah, I would hate to be the number two, counter clerk at the mickey d’s drive thru. I’ll bet you sling a mean french fry fit.


August 29th, 2011
12:09 pm

@Jarvis 8:37, I LMAO when I saw that headline too…


August 29th, 2011
12:37 pm

Thank you BlondeHoney. I was wondering if anyone else found it as funny as I did.


August 29th, 2011
1:09 pm

@Catlady, your mom sounds like my grandmother. I was ugly and dumb out of her mouth to ME but she went around town with copies of my report card to show to everyone…and give copies away (who really wanted them, I don’t know). My mother remarried my father before she was ready to reconcile – and I didn’t want her to – to get us away from our grandmother because she didn’t treat me right. I didn’t know that until I was grown. My mother doesn’t think I need as much attention and affirmation as my brother but I do, even now. (Why is it that the worse you do the more attention and help you get? Doing well gets you basically ignored in my family. WTH is that!) I just have to operate in the KNOWLEDGE that I am respected, appreciated, and loved even though it is not always said.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

August 29th, 2011
1:52 pm

we do have a new shot up today!! finally Lilina is not a baby anymore!! I am going to write some about the process — it didn’t go well! We also have outtakes to share on the Facebook page later today I think — I will let you know when they are there.

You can fan the page and see the outtakes!! (But they aren’t up yet!!)


August 29th, 2011
2:41 pm

I think it is helpful for a child’s self-esteem to have goals that are achievable with hard work. To get 100 AR points in 4th grade, make a basket or assist in the ball game, all chores completed with no nagging. I think the goal should be set by the child so it stays a goal and not another chore. It doesn’t hurt for a child to hear that he is smart or handsome from his parents because his classmates are certainly not going to say it. Kids do like praise from teachers, Scout leaders, coaches and parents but it should be honest praise not just for attendance. I don’t remember hearing my parents ever say I’m proud of you so I do say that one to my kids.

Good Grief

August 29th, 2011
3:14 pm

How can American kids be raised with healthy self esteeem? Kids are confused and you shouldn’t be suprised as to why!

Their parents are working their areses off trying to give them the life they (the parents) did not have.
Kids go to school and what do they here … we want them to be as smart as the Asian kids but be obedient like the Hispanics. American kids are told by their teachers all the time that they are not good enough or they are spoiled, then then teacher lauds the Asian kid for their intelligence and we are told that we should feel sorry for the illegal Hispanic kid because they are just wanting a better life.

Our kids have too much self esteem and are confused as heck because the adults in their lives are too busy telling them differing stories. Parents tell them how great they are and teacher and constantly belittling them.

I cannot believe you folks can’t figure this out. American kids are being destroyed and it’s likely they become extinct. The right people are not having kids and the wrong one are popping them out like rabbits. The right people have kids and you call them all sorts of horrible names.


August 29th, 2011
7:16 pm

great picture theresa :)


August 30th, 2011
11:55 am

I don’t praise my kids for unnecessary things, however I feel as though I get so caught up sometimes that I forget to praise them for doing the right thing (chores without attitude, trying hard on homework, cleaning room without being told, ect). I get confused sometimes and then I ask myself “am I suppose to praise them for things they should be doing?” The dishes and your homework are things you are suppose to do and are responsible for so I don’t want them to get in the habit of thinking they are due praise in return for that. Those are things you do to contribute to the family and help make it run smoother.

Now practicing that handwriting over and over until it’s finally legible, or going over those multiplication tables until you finally memorize them, that deserves praise. Because no matter how bad you wanted to quit… you didn’t. Perseverance is what deserves praise. My 6 yr old son has it down pat, when (not if) he falls riding his dirt bike, he gets back up and keeps going until he masters that turn or jump. One day recently when his dad was laid off, he said to him “it’s okay, when we fall down we get up, dust ourselves off, and keep going”. I must say it’s nice to have your kid be the wise one every once in a while! :-)


August 31st, 2011
7:52 pm

i grew up being called miss piggy. i can actually remember getting a miss piggy watch for christmas and being told i got it, because i looked like her. i swore that i was never going to hurt my kid’s feelings. i praise mine, tell them that i’m proud of them, especially when they do something awesome. but, they also get told if they don’t act right. and i don’t expect them to do anything more than do their best in school, have halfway decent manners, and act like they have sense. they’re kids, they have to learn how to be adults. all in all, i would rather have been beaten as a child. at least bruises heal.