Self Esteem 

July 18, 2013

Self-esteem. It’s a phrase we hear discussed quite a bit, but it can be hard to understand what it really means and how important it is for children.

Join us as we discuss what self-esteem is, what it means for our children, and how parents can positively impact the self-esteem of their children and what it means for their future.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the way we think and feel about ourselves. High self-esteem is important for everyone — young and old. As children grow and develop, they form opinions about themselves through the words and actions of other people.

The good news is that parents are the single greatest influence on their child’s self-esteem. Love is the cornerstone of self-esteem, no matter what stage your child is going through — whether they are toddlers, school-age, pre-adolescents, or high school kids. You play an important role in helping children develop the self-confidence needed to succeed in many aspects of their lives.

How does self-esteem affect children?

Self-esteem affects your child in many ways. For example, self-esteem influences your child’s attitude, energy level, their response to peer pressure; their ability to learn, grow, and be creative; relate to others; make healthy choices; problem solve; and reach their goals.

How do I know if my child has low or high self-esteem?

The way a child acts and reacts to different situations provides information about their level of self-esteem. By recognizing signs of low and high self-esteem, parents can appropriately meet each child’s needs in order to promote self-confidence.

Children with low self-esteem may:

Avoid new and unfamiliar experiences and situations;
Put down their own abilities;
Blame others for their own mistakes;
Be easily influenced by others;
Become easily frustrated;
Be defensive and easily hurt by criticism;
Continually wish to change their appearance; and
Not participate in class often.

Children with high self-esteem may:

Approach new situations and challenges eagerly;
Be proud of their achievements;
Learn from their own mistakes;
Accept helpful criticism; and
Be confident about their appearance.

It’s important to keep in mind that not every child will show all or any of these signs. And some children may have varying levels of self-esteem in different situations. As always, keep in mind that your child is unique. It’s LESS important to know exactly where you child’s self-esteem is now and MORE important to work on ways to build it up.

What can I do to build my child’s self-esteem?

By providing a loving and caring environment, parents and caregivers can positively shape a child’s self-image. Here are four areas to help you build your child’s self esteem:

RESPECT. Self-esteem is about how a person values—or respects—themselves. The single most important thing you can do as a parent is show respect for yourself and your child. They will learn respect directly from you.

Show genuine interest. Ask questions about things that concern your child. Don’t rush or interrupt as your child tells you about his or her day.

Include your child in family discussions. Ask for your child’s opinion on issues that affect the family. Respect your child’s point of view, even if it’s the opposite of yours.

Show respect for your child. Help build self-esteem by honoring your child’s choices, opinions, and possessions. Rather than telling them what to do, offer them two choices (i.e. Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the yellow shirt?) Remember to avoid negative labels, put-downs, and pushing your child to follow your interests.

Teach ethnic and cultural pride by sharing your family’s heritage and background with your child. Help your child experience your family’s culture as a source of strength and good feelings. Helping children recognize and appreciate their uniqueness teaches them to respect the differences of others.

COMMUNICATE. Self-esteem is built on good relationships — and good relationships are built on communication.

Really listen to your child. Kids are hard to fool. They can tell when you’re not paying attention. When children feel confident to express their opinions, they can develop an open communication with their parents.

Use “I” messages to express anger. For example, say “I feel upset when you leave a mess in the kitchen,” rather than, “You’re so sloppy.” This way, you avoid judging your child’s worth.

Set firm but fair rules for behavior. Let your child know both positive and negative actions have consequences.

SHOW AFFECTION. You would be amazed at how many children don’t hear “I love you,” everyday. Affection — both physical and verbal — is crucial for a child’s self-esteem.

Spend time alone with your child. Do this each day, even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes. Focus on issues and events in your child’s life — not yours.

Be sure to show your affection every day. Be generous with your smiles, touches, and hugs. This will help your child feel wanted and accepted. Don’t assume your child knows how you feel. Show your love for him or her every day.

Love without conditions. For example, send your child the message, “I love you,” even if he or she doesn’t make the team; isn’t as good at math as other kids; or can’t run as fast as the kid next door. Let your child know it’s normal not to be the best at everything.

Don’t smother your child. Your child needs to know that there are things he or she can handle without your help.

PRAISE. This can be a tricky one, because parents often over-praise just to go through the motions. Remember that children know when you are being sincere and when you are not.

Offer plenty of praise and encouragement. Let your child know you are proud of his or her efforts. Comment on your child’s unique qualities and talents — every child has them. For example, say “You’re a wonderful dancer” or “I like the way you draw” or “What a great reader you are!” Be sure not to overuse praise — kids can tell when you are being sincere and when you’re not.

Show you appreciate small favors, such as folding a pile of clothes, as well as bigger efforts, such as completing a school project. Avoid comments like, “You’ll never get it right.”

Compliment positive actions and be specific. For example, say, “You did a great job raking the yard,” rather than, “It was nice of you to help yesterday.”

Be careful with criticism. Make sure any critical comments are constructive and supportive. Put-downs are never okay.

Don’t compare your child to other kids (brothers, sisters, schoolmates, kids in the neighborhood). You risk sending the message that your child is not as good as they are. Avoiding these comparisons encourages children to have healthy relationships with others, without feelings of jealousy and anger.

Can self-esteem really be “taught”?

Self-esteem is something that grows in a child, and is not just a “skill” that can be taught. But the suggestions we have discussed so far will help you support your child’s self-esteem.

There are things you can “teach” your child that can help along the way:

Teach your child to set goals for themselves. Setting and reaching goals is a real self-esteem booster. Help your child identify goals, break tasks into smaller steps, check their progress, and talk about what happened. Make sure you don’t get so involved though that you end up doing all the work.

Teach responsibility. It will help your child feel capable. Assign chores to help your child learn to be part of the team. Make sure the tasks fit your child’s age level.

Make your home a place of learning. Provide the best education possibly by building healthy attitudes and sound values. Focus on the positive side of life to give your child a positive outlook on the world. Focus on values that are important for self-esteem such as hard work, honesty, the importance of exercise and eating right, and taking responsibility for actions that include other people.

Help your child handle stress by supporting his or her ability to welcome challenge and change rather than fear them. For example, encourage your child to get involved in a variety of activities. Set up new experiences that allow him or her to meet reasonable challenges. Help your child feel in control rather than helpless. For example, don’t demand perfection. Praise your child’s effort regardless of the outcome. Encourage your child to work out solutions to problems (rather than doing it for your child). Help your child tackle tough decisions rather than putting them off. This prevents stress from building up. Help your child learn to relax through exercise, deep breathing and other methods. And set an example by controlling stress yourself.

Be a good role model. Teach responsibility by practicing it yourself. Take care of your health, follow through on promises, show respect for all people, show you care about learning, and speak positively about school. Never say one thing and do another. It undercuts your message about responsibility.


High self-esteem can help your child hold firmly to their values and beliefs when they are faced with peer pressure. It leads to success at home, at school, and in life.

As a parent, you have the power to positively impact your child’s self-esteem. By using the tools and suggestions we’ve discussed, you can start making a difference in your child’s life today. Building self-esteem is not an easy task, but it can be achieved through simple steps. And what a wonderful affect it will have on the rest of your child’s life!

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