From: How to raise a child such that she has high self esteem throughout her life?

Love unconditionally, allow her to make mistakes, allow her to disagree with you (This is not the same as letting her get her way), and avoid movies where the man rescues the princess.

I found the quote enlightening but I can't make out how to differentiate between allowing the child to disagree with you, and letting her get her way?

  • From the bounty, I'm guessing my answer didn't meet all your needs. Is it not clear enough, or is there something I'm missing from your question?
    – deworde
    Mar 4, 2014 at 9:50
  • What if you rephrase to "How do you differentiate between allowing someone to disagree with you and letting them get ther way?" It looks to me as if the fact that we're talking about a child is irrelevant.
    – haylem
    Mar 5, 2014 at 16:49

5 Answers 5


This question caught my attention when you first posted it and then I've been so crazed with stuff needing doing I totally didn't get around to it so I'm really glad you drew attention to it again with the bounty.

Deword makes a number of great points about the fact that kids need boundaries and that ultimately it isn't going to hurt their self-esteem if they don't get their way all the time so I consider this answer really an add-on, but an elaborate one.

I agree that one of the key things to remember is that allowing a child to disagree is not the same thing as allowing that child to always get her way. It is a bit of a tight-rope walk and a balance that must be struck between exposing your child to absolutes.

The way this has worked so far in our home is to allow for seeking compromises or win-wins, but to be absolutely uncompromising about not allowing argument for the sake of argument.

In other words, if I say, "no you can't have a cookie right now." My daughter is expected to either accept the no or respond with a response that disagrees but seeks a compromised solution.

Unacceptable: "But I WAAAaaaaant one"

"Okay, mom, are you worried I have had too many sweets today? Would an apple work? I really am hungry?"

My answer to the second might still be no - perhaps she is guessing at the wrong reason, maybe dinner is just minutes away or something, but then, it is just a discussion. In the case of the first answer the discussion is over. At this point in life, all I really need to do to respond to this kind of a response is raise an eyebrow.

By itself, this method will not result in a high self-esteem, but it certainly won't prevent a child from having a high self-esteem and even encourages the kinds of skills that make for good conflict resolutions with all kinds of people in life, the kind of thinking that leads to being the kind of person others want to be friends with, and is conducive to a child with a high self-esteem because it is a method that communicates: "your wants and needs matter too, and should be heard, but they happen in a context that must also consider the wants and needs of others as well as your health and long-term goals and happiness as well as your immediate satisfaction in balance." to the child.

Doc's comment on deworde's answer is another fabulous example of the kind of discussion you can eventually expect from a child that practices seeking win-win solutions.

Your daughter wants to go to a party, you say no, because you don't think it's safe. They counter with a suggestion that makes it safe (you can be there, another trusted adult is there, whatever). You agree that this allays your concern and she can go.

How to make it happen:

You have to introduce the idea of compromise in some way. There are a ton of ways to do this, but I like "The Seven Habits of Happy Kids" best as a direct way to approach the topic with a child. There are tons of kids books that include good examples of the characters in the book needing to come to a compromise. If you are Christian, there are Sunday-School materials about compromise. You can exemplify someone that looks for compromise both in your interactions with your child and in your interactions with other adults your child sees you with (you probably already do). The larger the variety of ways you broach the subject with your child and the more frequently, the sooner your child will start to get it.

The example I gave above is something I expect of my seven-year-old child. Expectations must match both the developmental abilities of the child as well as the fact that this is a skill that must be learned. You can't just set forth a rule and expect a kid to follow it immediately.

After introducing the concept and beginning to discuss why compromise is a good thing to try, you'll want to begin to ask the child to put the concept into action. At the beginning, the parent can only model how to seek a compromise (or win-win) for the child:

"Honey, I understand you want a treat. However, you've already had four cookies. I'm worried you've had too many already. Are you actually hungry? Would something like a few apple slices get you what you want while still considering your health?"

This is basically how I talk to any child when there is a disagreement - even infants get this kind of an attitude from me. "I know you want out of the highchair my darling seven month old, but I really do need to get the sticky syrup off your hands first, then I'll put you down." It may be a little silly-sounding to many, but it has always worked well for me. When they do start talking, they already have a ton of examples regarding how to express what they want and hear what others want.

Over time, when an unacceptable answer is given you can ask questions like:

"I understand you really want the cookie. You aren't talking to me in a way that is going to help you get it though. Why do you want the cookie so badly? Is there a way you can have the cookie at another time or is there another food that will work to help you feel less hungry?"

OR Eventually,

"Hmmmm. . . That doesn't sound like someone trying to figure out a compromise - do you want to try again?"

Over time, even that will shorten to, "You'd better try again" and the eventual, eyebrow raise that says it all.

Hope this helps somewhat as cursory an answer it is. I could write a book if I included every age and stage and possible example, but if there is something more specific that would be of help, please ask.

I need to make it clear though, the parent is still owner of the house, money giver, and adult with experience beyond that of the child's. Being open to discussion, doesn't mean you always agree to a compromise and there will be, and should be times when you pull the "parent card" because you can and need to. There are some things that are simply non-negotiable, hopefully these usually relate to safety, health and morals. When you find a compromise, you are allowing her to get some of what she wants. When you pull the parent card, you get your way. On occasion, its okay to relinquish and decide to let the child have her way too (but this should be far less common than compromise and either equally common or, better, less common than the pulling of the parent card and only when the child is being reasonable about it and can be "rewarded" for good behavior of late, above and beyond performance on chores, school or something else that took a great effort. . .

  • Be warned that other people's children often misinterpret reasons not as opportunities to compromise, but as opportunities to whine and contradict: No, I won't! No, it isn't! That's not a good enough reason! So be ready for those "rebuttals" from kids you're not raising who are somehow present during these conversation.
    – Chrys
    Mar 5, 2014 at 15:53
  • @Chrys - it's true, but I find it usually works well to say to such a child, can you find a way to think about what you want and what so and so wants? Also, I've helped my own child learn how to do that with others too - of course it doesn't always work, but the reality for those kids, is other kids won't enjoy hanging out with them - when my daughter doesn't want to continue to have some one over (because of a child sticking stubbornly to such an attitude) I don't force it. Mar 6, 2014 at 2:25

I think this one may be a bit of an judgement call for each example, but mine would be this.

Your 4 year-old daughter is not bad for disagreeing with you about whether she's able to handle a bread-knife safely, and it's good to allow her to sulk or to challenge that boundary, as long as she's polite about it. But you don't let her pick up the knife.

The main thing is, it is not wrong for them to be annoyed at restrictions. You don't get angry at being challenged and demand that they be silent and "respect your authority". You simply exert that authority.

Critically, it is okay for her to ask "Why?" If you don't have an proper answer, you can still say "Because it doesn't feel right to me, and I have to be the parent", but you should never be annoyed that she wants to engage with you rather than just ignoring or yelling at you. (Note that if there's a point where she's just trying to wear you down by persistent argument, that's not the same thing as genuinely asking. You have to judge this by your child). As Doc said in the comment, she may even be able to convince you, and that doesn't undercut your authority at all.

In other words, it's the difference between saying "the way you are feeling is wrong" (bad), and "the way you are behaving is wrong"(good). Everyone's seen (and to at least some extent been) the parent who gets angry at the fact that their child is obeying the rule in a sulky way. It's a challenge, and it's easy to respond to that challenge in kind. Good parenting is about not indulging in whatever behaviour your child is indulging in. As long as they're still doing the right thing, you can accept that they're annoyed about it.

Respecting their thoughts and opinions is right, the same way you do with everyone you disagree with. But it's possible to respect them and still be the one in charge.

  • 5
    As an addition, there are situations where you can allow your child to argue or debate a topic (and cause you to accept their request) without subverting your authority. Your daughter wants to go to a party, you say no, because you don't think it's safe. They counter with a suggestion that makes it safe (you can be there, another trusted adult is there, whatever). You agree that this allays your concern and she can go. No subversion of authority but she was allowed to disagree with you and make a valid rational argument.
    – Doc
    Mar 4, 2014 at 14:37

One simple line: Safety issues are non-negotiable. She gets no opinion on seat belts, crossing the street without looking, giving out contact information over the internet, playing with power tools, etc.

Other issues, you can listen to her, and you can go with her choices at times. There will also be times where her choice places an undue burden on the rest of the family, and she'll learn to understand that the sun does not rise when she opens her eyes. "There's nothing wrong with going to the movie with your friends, honey, but right now, we need that $15 to pay for your brother's soccer cleats." She may not like it, she may argue, but she needs to be part of a family as well.


Here's the general rule in our house:

You must follow the instructions of your caregiver - be it mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, baby sitter, etc. UNLESS their instruction is to do something illegal, immoral, dangerous, or abusive. And mom and dad will support the caregiver in their decision.

You don't have to like it. You can disagree. You can think I'm being stupid or unfair. You may ask questions, suggest alternatives, negotiate or ask for help. But, you must not disobey.

(Now if that caregiver is being unreasonable, the parents may have a discussion with them outside of the earshot of the child, or may choose not to use that caregiver again, but that's another story).

Seems harsh? It depends on how reasonable you are as a parent/caregiver. The rule is clear and kids thrive on clear rules; and it has a built in escape clause for a caregiver who is off their rocker.

When does it shift from a child disagreeing with you and letting them get their way? When you let them get their way. If you give them an instruction, and the choose not to follow it (i.e., they have the knowledge, resources, and capabilities of following it); if you do not bring in the corrective action (i.e., discussion, time out, grounding, privilege loss, etc.) when they fail to perform, then you have let them get their way.

In practice, as a caregiver you might take protests into account ("Why do I have to clear the table, John isn't doing anything?" "John, help Jane clear the table"); but that's your decision, not Jane's - the answer might be "John set the table, your task is to clear it.".

And of course if they don't know how to do/understand what the task is or don't have the tools/time to do the task, or don't have the physical/mental abilities to perform the task; that's your fault as the caregiver for giving them the wrong task.

E.g., you could never tell a 3 year old in the middle of a meltdown (mental abilities) to clear the table (a task they've never been shown how to do) when they can't even reach the counter and don't have a stool to climb up on (lack of tools).


First let me say that no response here is wrong. In fact, they are all true and helpful.

When I was young, I was always the outsider -- to family and friends. It's part of my nature for various reasons. So, I analyzed them all (again, part of my nature). Parents, I saw, wanted largely to either 1) teach their children, or 2) control them. Children, I saw, wanted largely to do what they wanted. When children were forced with the choice of obey or pay the consequences, they all too often would choose to accept the consequences. The flaw in the child's logic was that the consequences were those imposed by the parent (i.e. when a child heard, "No", they interpreted it to be, "Don't let me find out when you do.")

I took this analysis to heart and determined that I would have a different philosophy as a parent: I would think of my child not as a child, but as a future adult. That necessarily implied that I would be responsible for training my child to think -- of the consequences, both positive and negative. And, then, to make up their own mind.

In my just-about-teen years, I distinctly recall telling my mother than I would not learn from her mistakes in all cases, but sometimes I would make my own mistakes and learn from them. I understood even at such a young age that experience has no substitute.

All that blathering taken into account and many years since all that analytical thinking was formulated, I actually do parent with that philosophy. My child is free to provide her thinking on things and I help her in considering the positive and negative consequences of the choice she is pondering (both in executing the choice and in not executing the choice). Then she makes up her own mind. The result? I have never had to make the choice for her. When she sees more of the full picture, she comes to a decision which imo reflects reasonability.

Now, sometimes she has ventured out thinking that she is fit to make a decision without consultation. Sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it doesn't. But in both cases she always feels comfortable in coming to me and asking for help and additional guidance for the future.

Force in an appropriate form is sometimes necessary, but imo our goal as parents is to raise a future adult who can think for themselves.

The advantages are numerous, but think of this as one scenario:

Mid-teen wants to go to a party. Is told no (perhaps with reasoning). Decides to go anyway by sneaking out. Is faced with the choice of coming home with someone drunk or by calling home and admitting the choice was bad. That very scary and yet very real scenario stays in the back of my mind constantly -- I want her to feel perfectly comfortable in calling home b/c that is the right choice to make at the end of a bad series of choices.

Whether 4 years old or 14 years old, children are all future adults. May we all raise them to be phenomenal!

And remember the saying from Dale Carnegie in "How to Win Friends & Influence People": There's only one reason why any of us have done anything in our lives -- we wanted to.

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