Q. One of my children acts like a doormat; the other expects to be treated like royalty. What is wrong with their brains?

A. I would need more information to make specific comments about your children. In general, self-esteem issues can be thought of as a circular spectrum. Individuals with self-esteem issues can hover at one position (e.g., abysmally low, overinflated) or move back and forth between them. It sounds as if one of your children hovers at a position of low self-worth, and the other hovers at a position of overinflated self-worth.

Many factors contribute to how children develop their self-concept and level of self-worth. Here are several examples:

  • Gender: females tend to have more problems with self-worth
  • Birth order: eldest, only, and eldest-of-gender individuals tend to have more problems with self-esteem. Their care providers “practiced” on them, after all! With high expectations (voiced or unspoken) to do it right and make their parents look good, these individuals can quickly feel inadequate.
  • Different: individuals of either gender who differ from the “norm” or who appear different from their friends can struggle with self-esteem issues. They may be different in size (e.g., too fat, thin, short, or tall), may have a birth injury that can be observed, may have developed a body deformity, or may look different for some other reason (e.g., acne, cross-eye, big nose, wear glasses, problem hair, tiny/huge breasts, can’t afford to “dress” in a specific style).
  • Intelligence: they may have below-average IQ, above average IQ, good EQ (emotional intelligence) or poor EQ. This can impact how they learn and where they place themselves in their peer pecking order.
  • Brain function: their own innate giftedness (e.g., sensory preference, position on the extroversion-introversion continuum, thinking style preference) may differ significantly from family and friends.

Children in the same family are really never raised in identical environments or treated exactly the same, even when that is intended. Pay attention to how you talk to and treat your children. Observe how others interact with them, as well. That may give you some clues to their differing behavior. You get the idea.