Family Forum: Self Esteem

Helping kids develop a positive sense of self.


I was the family scapegoat in my family, bullied, shamed and blamed. My seven-year-old nephew is also a family scapegoat. The family scapegoating is mocking, shaming and passive-aggressive parenting. He is cared for and when the emotional abuse was investigated it does not warrant government interference. What resources or strategies are there to help a family scapegoat child? What method is available to reduce the internalisation of projected shame upon the seven-year-old? If the parents and surrounding friends and professionals join in on blaming the child as the difficult one in the family? What stories, games, movies will give the child a frame of reference that it’s not all his fault and other kids experience this too?


Patterns of parenting behaviour can repeat from generation to generation if parents don’t make a conscious effort to raise their children in a different way to that which they experienced when they were growing up. It must be difficult for you to watch your nephew being treated in the same way you were treated as a child.

You may be able to help your nephew by role modelling positive interactions with him when you are in the company of his parents. Children are resilient and although his home environment may not be helping his emotional development his experiences in other environments such as school will enable him to develop a positive sense of self. You can help by praising him and acknowledging his strengths whenever possible. If you are able to spend time with him, playing or reading or taking him on outings, he can experience your positive regard for him and observe your even-temper and consistency.

To paraphrase the inspirational poem, ‘Children Learn What They Live’ written by Dorothy Law Nolte in 1955, if children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy. If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty. But on the positive side, if children live with encouragement, they learn to be confident. If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

It would be ideal if each generation reflected on their parenting style and changed to be the best parents they could possibly be. However, giving your nephew additional support will be a positive contribution to his wellbeing. The Pixar movie “Inside Out” is suitable for a child of seven and can stimulate discussion about the emotions your nephew may be experiencing but the Panel suggests that you get permission from a parent before sharing this.

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