Will This Matter To My Kids When They're Older?

Does it affect a child's self esteem if they don't have what their peers have?

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Q - My kids are nagging me for the latest games and fashion gear – but I just can’t afford it because I’m a single parent on benefits. They have to make do with what I can get for them, and I get some great bargains from charity shops and car boot sales. My friend said the other day that giving them cast-offs will affect their self esteem as they grow up. Do you think it will?

A - I have a dual response to your question. On the one hand I know from personal experience how shaming it feels not having the same quality or quantity of stuff that childhood peers have. It’s tough being a child who is ridiculed and stands out as different from their peers. Children can be very harsh – because many of them haven’t been brought up to be better than that.

On the other hand I can empathise with your struggle – having also been a single parent having to find a way to clothe my daughter in ‘acceptable’ clothes and having enough of the ‘right’ stuff/games/gadgets etc to be able to talk about these things with her peers (an important part of bonding and growing relationships).

It may be that as adults your children will also empathise with you and your struggles. But that’s a long way off and right now their focus is, understandably, upon how they feel when they compare themselves to their friends.

I know that some kids can feel inferior to their peers and this can bring about lowered self-esteem. Others couldn’t give a damn and make a point of looking different by creating their own style – which is a brave, but not always wise, decision in those impressionable years.

They may also feel angry that they have to nag you, when their peers may have a much easier time of getting what they want.

I wonder, do they see other members of their wider family getting what they want when they want it?

That’s not to say that giving kids what they want, when they want it, is necessarily a good thing. They also need to learn to be disappointed, to know the limits and to compromise. Important lessons indeed.

It’s important that you talk openly with your children about the difference between needs and wants; and about negotiation, boundaries and budgeting, earned rewards, self-concept, and identity.

You don’t say if their dad is around or if he helps with their upkeep. (That might be a part of your dilemma as well as contribute to their feelings about the situation.)

As for practical suggestions - 

  • Decide upon priorities – school clothing, leisure clothing, free days out, learning technology, paid-for events/trips, and then games and gadgets

  • You could set a clothing and games budget with them – and find ways that they might contribute to this themselves (chores, errands for family members etc)

  • Make the most of store sales and websites such as E-bay and Amazon - and when you’ve jointly decided that it’s time to buy something then they can also be involved in finding the best deal or bargain

  • The focus is then upon quality at a bargain price - which will give them useful lessons and skills to use in adulthood too

Please also think about what this issue is bringing up for you about your own past.

  • What you did and didn’t get from your parents
  • Whether you were able to ask for things or what got in the way of that
  • How you ‘fitted in’ with the expectations of your peer group at school or college
  • How might some of your own experiences be transferring themselves into the present day?

It’s great that you are looking a bit deeper at this situation and your own part in it. As well as wanting to know how you can make any necessary changes to ensure that you can provide for your children emotionally as well as materially.

Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR

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Maxine Harley