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Ugo Chinakwe: Filling Your Child’s Bucket of Self Esteem



My cousin’s display message on her BlackBerry on Saturday morning read “parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry” . That message got me thinking. I called her and we had a lengthy conversation about people who have a strong sense of self and those who don’t. We also talked about kids we knew and how they fared in life because of how they were treated at home.

It’s been said that children learn what they live. If a child grows up with criticism they learn to condemn, if a child lives with pity they learn to feel sorry for them selves, if a child lives with jealousy they learn what envy is. I used to read these growing up because we had the entire “creed” hanging on the wall of our staircase. As it relates to self-esteem, if a child grows up with approval they learn to like themselves and if a child grows up in a home where he/she is constantly put down and told he will come to no good it will take the grace of God for him to believe otherwise . I am not talking of the spiritual significance of the spoken word here as that’s a whole new topic for another day.

Just recently my aunt was at a wedding table with her son and an in-law who was even younger than her son. She was asked to go and re-park her car. She didn’t have enough faith in her son’s ability to drive , instead she asked the in-law to help re-park. Another line from Dorothy Nolte’s write up says that if a child lives with encouragement they learn confidence. My aunt by that act and many others failed woefully in that area. The son who wasn’t allowed to re-park his mother’s car can drive and is almost 30 years. Her two kids have very little confidence and have low paying jobs. Can you see the connection?

I remember when Ebuka Obi-Uchendu was on Big Brother. It was one of the eviction shows and his elder sister came. I don’t know how big brother works now but then relatives of housemates who were up for eviction used to come for it and they were often times given a microphone to address the crowd. So the presenter asks her if she thinks Ebuka will win. His sister very calmly said, Ebuka is a winner whether or not he wins big brother. So you can imagine the amount of self esteem his “bucket” was filled with. Not to toot Ebuka’s horn or flatter him, but years after his sister’s declaration he is still a winner . You can deduce from what his sister said that theirs was a home where their mother had enough confidence in her son’s ability to re-park her car if the situation arose.

My organization hires graduates as sales reps and we pay them less than other staff. I have been on the interview panel and some people have walked into these interviews and even from their carriage I know they won’t settle for such an arrangement because from home they have a strong sense of self.

People can do so much more if they are told who they are and know it. The world will always put you down and life will throw situations at you that will make you second guess yourself. Women face abuse and take all sorts from men just because they weren’t told enough that they deserve better. It’s therefore important that the child’s self worth and value system is so indoctrinated in them that 30,40 ,50 years own nothing can tell them any different.

As they say charity and all else begins at home.

Let me leave you with the words of Dorothy Nolte

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime |Miroslav Ferkuniak

I was born Ugo Oragwu exactly 34 years ago. I have two very cute boys aged almost 3 and almost 6 months. I have a sister who I strongly believe is my guardian angel in human form. I speak to her almost daily and feel her impact in my life even though we live in different cities. I presently work in the pensions industry. Moved to the Uk at 27 to seek my fortune, never found it there so moved back after a 3 year stay. I believe in God and have a relationship with him


  1. x-factor

    September 11, 2014 at 4:02 pm


  2. oluwadolapo .

    September 11, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Very lovely piece. Well done.
    In my opinion, i do not support some of your beliefs especially this one and i quote ” She was asked to go and re-park her car. She didn’t have enough faith in her son’s ability to drive , instead she asked the in-law to help re-park. Another line from Dorothy Nolte’s write up says that if a child lives with encouragement they learn confidence. My aunt by that act and many others failed woefully in that area. The son who wasn’t allowed to re-park his mother’s car can drive and is almost 30 years. Her two kids have very little confidence and have low paying jobs. Can you see the connection?”
    it’s got nothing to do with him having a low paid job or her not believing in him. You have no excuse to be less in life, Your parents can not determine how great u will be in life or get a job for you. A yoruba proverb says, Alagemo ti bi mo tan aimo jo ku si owo alegemo. ( pls don’t tell me to translate cos i can’t lol) She might have her reasons for not sending him.
    Low self esteem is a big issue and there are 1001 reasons why people have it. some are told good things when they we were little but they could still later on develop it in life due to some circumstances that cant be controlled. We all experience it at different stages in our lives.
    I pray that the Lord God almighty that we serve and call upon will see us through in all areas of our lives. Everything comes from him.
    This is my opinion, with no intention of talking down on anyone.
    Remain blessed and lifted.

    • Onye

      September 11, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      no. She is drawing the correlation between the aunt not having faith in her son to park her car and so of course he doesn’t have confidence in himself to go after the bigger jobs. Quite simple to understand really.

    • Onye

      September 11, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      because if your parents don’t have confidence in you, where will you get the confidence in yourself.

    • bekee

      September 12, 2014 at 10:17 am

      I think you should read the book outlier by Malcolm gladwell.

  3. ufuoma

    September 11, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    thumbs up! this is so true,from the moment i started learning how to write and talk i have always been thought to be proud of my name,of myself and of my position in the world,but sadly sometimes life happens and we forget who we truly are! it takes articles like this to remind me that i am strong,confident and worthy of only the best

  4. Chinenye

    September 11, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Well said sis! What you have said is very right. They say you can only give what you have. I say children can only give what they have learnt, been told or imbibed. The apple never falls too far from the tree. We should learn to encourage our children, show them support at all times and love them unconditionally.

  5. Reemtos

    September 11, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    This is a beautiful piece and I give my props to you. Also, to corroborate Oluwadolapo’s comment, she MAY have her reasons, lets not be so conclusive. And to help with the translation of her proverb, it goes thus : “The masquerade don born finish, for the pikin to sabi dance, e dey hin hand.” (and pls dont ask for the English version). LOL. You (Oluwadolapo) make a valid point anyway. I guess the most important thing is learning our lessons. God bless us all.

  6. Beht why

    September 11, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    This resonates so deeply with me because I’m still battling with my self esteem. As a child, I was constantly compared to my baby sister and other friends. Fastforward to the last 3weeks, I went back to Nigeria and my mother still felt the need to constantly put me down. I had to tell her to her face and confront her. We’re still not in speaking terms and unfortunately, i don’t care. I’m tired of feeling low about myself. Thank you *drops mic*

    • Ephi

      September 11, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      I can imagine how much that must hurt.
      …..You are special as you are, please don’t let anyone take that away from you. *Hugs*

    • Mocha

      September 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Wow…you should check out this blog The story resonates a lot with yours.

  7. @edDREAMZ

    September 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    No doubt this is making sense……

  8. Mz Socially Awkward...

    September 11, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Ugo, nicely written. It’s sometimes a hard balance to find between telling children they’re the best, no matter what and pushing them further towards self-actualization (i.e. letting them know they’re still on the path to realizing their full potential but also remaining fully aware that you’re their greatest fan). Of course, it’s not always so clear cut like this, when you consider children can be influenced by other factors that can set them back or spur them on, regardless of what you’ve filled them with.

    I’m not a parent and don’t know how that balance is struck without inflicting a lack of confidence or alarming sense of self in the child but I like the creed your parents hung up on the wall. 🙂

    • GirlOnTop

      September 12, 2014 at 7:49 am

      This is so true. My parents filled up my self esteem bucket but life hit me continuously from the time I was 15. I moved countries, I wasn’t doing well academically like I used to, fear of failure hit me. Then I moved to uni, met these girls who made me feel less than, fear of rejection hit me, now put in insecurity and depression. It was hard. It’s taken me about 6 years but I’m finally getting back to being me again and liking me as I am. Letting go of the idea of what I thought my life should be like and finally choosing to live life as it comes and choosing to be happy irrespective helped me.

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      September 14, 2014 at 12:35 am

      @GirlOnTop (I like your username, by the way 🙂 ), that’s the difficult balance I was trying to describe – keeping the child on the edge of the assurance that they can do anything and still preparing them for the many mountain peaks and unknown corners beyond the 4 corners of their parents’ house.

      There are simply certain truths that parents can’t shield their children from but at the same time, I also realise that a parent’s best job is to cheerlead. Carrying out that role with a great deal of honesty and openness will truly benefit children in untold ways.

      I’m very glad for you that you’re no longer existing in those dark days; keep positively searching for that personal joy & may God shine Light on your path. xx

  9. Chidy

    September 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Well written and so spot on. I know the writer and trust me she lives by this belief….. Well done girl. Looking forward to reading more articles…….

  10. mscookie

    September 11, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    this piece says a lot children are products of their upbringing. parents have to learn to speak life and positive words.

  11. Debola Ajike Adams

    September 11, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Well put together sis,God bless you. I quite
    agree with you 90%, if not the whole 100. A healthy self-esteem is an essential ingrident in all life’s relationships most especially, parent-child relationship because to a large extent, It infleunces our relationship with God.How do i mean, if a child grows in a loving atmosphere, it becomes easier for him/her to accept that God is love.
    Stay blessed!


    September 11, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Well said….however peers, teachers and house helps do play big roles in a child’s life. How many hours in a day do working parents actually spend with their kids? While we can do our best to instill all the aforementioned values in our kids in the short time we spend with them, there are many other external influences that can counter all we have taught.

    People take their experiences and apply it to their lives in different ways. A child who lives with criticism could take that and become a great achiever. A child who lives with recognition could become conceited.

    I grew up in a home where my dad did not treat my mum right…lots of verbal abuse and he cheated on her multiple times but she took it all and even apologized sometimes “just to make peace”.. That experience did not make me feel that a man can do that to me and it is normal. hell no! Today I am married and my husband knows not to ever use bad languages on me because he will regret it! As for the cheating, make I catch first then e go know how far! LOL

  13. Chiamaka

    September 11, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    I’m glad my Blackberry display message  inspired this great piece.
    Low self esteem is like driving through life with your hand – break on.
    It cannot be over emphasised.
    We all need a cheering committee & parents are a child’s most important fans.
    Ugo, more of this please…..

  14. Gee Bee

    September 11, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Well said, low self esteem is a terrible thing to live or battle with. Abusive words don’t do kids any help, like calling them big head. It kills their inner strength

  15. awhotu

    September 12, 2014 at 12:06 am

    This piece is full of wisdom.I have learnt from iy

  16. Bella Noire

    September 12, 2014 at 12:19 am

    Thanks a lot for this article. I had to go through years of self-administered therapy to free myself from my parents’ excessive criticism of myself and my siblings. I have to remind myself every day to be confident. And sometimes, I’ll catch myself taking s*** from people just because I’m not valuing myself. This is a must-read for parents, especially those with young children ’cause when the damage is done, it’s hard to reverse.

  17. jerryp

    September 12, 2014 at 1:28 am

    This is true words… Parents are suppose to guild the heart of the growing child because with the heart they will deal with life issues…. the heart is like a soil and our words are like seeds what ever we speak to our kids either give them life and drains the life out of them…. My dad always trow abusive words to my mum and every child in the house now my dad is dead and that seed still lives

  18. moi

    September 12, 2014 at 4:52 am

    I can relate with this piece a lot. I used to have very low self esteem. Didn’t think I was beautiful enough, intelligent enough and lacked confidence in everything and I could relate it to my mum. She was always so abusive towards me when I was younger that it really put me down.
    I got this very good job after school, where only 9 of us got in, from about thousands that applied and we’re told that not all of us will make it through the training process and in my mind I said I know I would be one of them and alas I was.
    What ever parents give to their children affects how they would turn out. Children thrive on praise, on positivity for the littlest of things.

  19. profound piece thats why theres a difference between the rich and the poor. The ass kissers and yes men in the offices today are mostly from poor homes, Take a minute to ask them questions about themselves and you will see.

  20. Jules

    September 12, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Every Nigerian Child needs this… Thanks Ugo

  21. omoibo

    September 12, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Great write up! I couldn’t tell you how many time as kids growing up in naija how adults intentionally tried to kill our self esteem by the stuff they said & did to us. Parents say stuff to their kids without the realization that if you say it enough times, the child begins to believe it without realizing it and if we look down the road there’s absolutely a correlation with how our lives turn out as adults..

  22. sum1special

    September 12, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I love this write-up…Very important we instill self worth and esteem in our kids.

  23. Dinma

    September 12, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Nice one Ugo…but no matter how much praise and confidence parents shower on their kids, some still grow up with low self esteem because a lot of people like peers, teachers etc also play important roles in the child’s life and they can negatively affect their self esteem.
    In as much as parents need to play their part, a high or low self esteem is majorly dependent on the child because “the power to grow lies within the seed”

  24. Eky Shirley

    September 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Very profound thinking and writing. It is absolutely true that parents owe their children a sense of pride that they can only get from home. There are too many hard knocks in life’s journey that deflating a child’s sense of self will make it much harder for them to go through those challenges without the required confidence.
    Now, I want to write like this lady when I grow up.

  25. Eyitayo

    September 12, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    nice piece!

  26. Mocha

    September 12, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    This article just resonates so much with the story on

  27. Devon

    September 12, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    We are not taught how we impact a child’s developing self-esteem. Perhaps it should become a subject worthy of learning just like math, english and social studies. Until people are actually educated, who is really to blame?

    We do what we learned to do as children, and so the cycle continues. There are some who are aware enough to question ‘why’ we do things, why we say things and how we impact others. Those people will cause a revolution in parenting.

    Parenting is a skill. And promoting self-esteem is just one aspect of parenting.

    When I talk to people most are amazed at the little things they do that are lowering self-esteem, and of course it was never their intention.

    If you want to learn about how self-esteem develops in children, you need to look at this site- the woman who owns this site is amazing and has taught many people so much. The process is amazing too…

  28. Temmytee

    September 12, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Nice write-up..Parents should always try and build their children’s self confidence.I am a victim of low self esteem as my mother always criticised everything i ever did,said negative things to me and i would wonder if she was my real mother.It affected me socially,emotionally,mentally,made me feel unintelligent and sometimes i feel those words are still affecting me today.i always felt i was not pretty until i got to the university and people started complimenting me on my looks.So i believe the parents have a huge role to play by encouraging their children even when they don’t do things well.
    Remember,If you don’t believe in your children,who will?

  29. funky

    September 13, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Nice write up… I grew up in a family where we were encouraged all the way and we all knew there is a great future ahead unfortunately I married a man who grew up in a broken home and in the hostility made him to have a low self esteem but now that he is successful he still battles with it hence developed pride, arrogance and ego to cover up his low self esteem. For a while his arrogance and the way he talks to me without respect was bringing me down but recently I had to talk to myself, bring back to memories all my dad’s counsels and build up my self esteem and look into the world that the world hasnt changed so I am still that great woman even if you dont believe in me I believe in myself. right now i raise my heads up and wear shades because the future is too bright for me to be sitting in a corner with depression. lol. The only ish now is I dont like the way he shouts on our son. the way he handles the boy has really toughen the 2year old boy in a way that I am really scared my son doesnt turn out to be someone like him. God forbid. I am lost on what to do because if iraise an argument on it ots like i dont want him to correct the boy.

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      September 14, 2014 at 12:46 am

      If you don’t mind me saying this, your son’s future is a more vital point to consider than your husband’s ego/feelings. The child you raise will go on to impact either his very immediate environment or the wider society for good or bad.

      Whichever impression he makes on other people’s life as he grows up will be shaped by these early years. Do you, for example, want him to grow into a man who puts his wife through the sort of emotional experience you’ve described? Don’t be afraid to protect him & I really pray there’s a change in the current atmosphere in your marriage soon. Try and find out (using whatever direct or indirect means best suitable) if your husband will consider counselling.

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