Improving a Child’s Self-Esteem
Posted on March 13, 2019 by CHS
Self-esteem refers to how you think and feel about yourself. A strong sense of self-esteem helps people keep a positive attitude, appreciate their own talents, approach new situations with confidence, learn from mistakes, resist negative peer pressure, and persevere when confronted with challenges. Parents begin to build their child’s self-esteem from the moment their child is born, and as that child grows and develops, parents, family members, and friends will continue to support and improve that child’s self-esteem.
What children learn about themselves from their experiences and relationships can shape their self-esteem. Developing strong self-esteem is important because it influences relationships, attitudes, decision making, problem solving, creativity, energy level, achievement of goals, and overall success. There are a variety of things that parents, family members, friends, and educators can do to support and improve a child’s self-esteem.
Start with a smile. Cuddle and smile at your child while you hold him to sing, talk, or eat. Respond to his needs promptly and reassure him that he is safe. This not only helps develop a positive relationship, but also teaches him what it means to be trustworthy. When you have conversations with your infant or young child, make eye contact so they know they have your full attention and that you believe what they have to say is valuable. This will also help your child foster a sense of belonging.
As your child grows and begins to develop control of his body, you can encourage his independence and develop his confidence by allowing him to complete tasks on his own. For example, as an infant, your child will need you to spoon feed him, but as he develops muscles and coordination in his hands and fingers, he can begin to pick up pieces of dry cereal or teething biscuits to feed himself. Eventually, he will be ready to practice using a spoon, and by the time he is two, he should be able to eat finger foods and eat with a spoon on his own. Allowing him the opportunity to feed himself, dress himself, wash his hands, and pick up toys will help him develop confidence in his own abilities.
During the preschool years, continue allowing your child to develop his independence by teaching him more self-help skills like brushing his own teeth, putting on his own shoes, placing dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, helping to set the table for meals, folding laundry, and being responsible for his own belongings. Learning these skills will continue to improve his confidence, allow him to feel like he is contributing to the well-being of his family, give him a sense of purpose, and develop his understanding of responsibility.
Positive self-esteem also includes the ability to make decisions and practice self-discipline. You can support this aspect of your child’s self-esteem by guiding his choices and teaching him how to be aware of his own behavior. When there is an opportunity for decision-making, allow your child to participate. Teach your child to identify and express his own emotions. When your child is feeling impatient, help him learn how to cope with waiting by doing something else (read a book, play “I Spy,” or draw a picture).
In the beginning it can be difficult to identify opportunities for your child to make his own choices or manage his own behavior. Try thinking of a traffic light. The red light represents choices or behaviors that directly affect the health and safety of your child or others. Examples of this include crossing the street alone, using sharp tools, hitting someone, or going to bed on time. In these circumstances, you can let your child know that what they are doing is not a healthy (safe) situation and you can explain why it is not healthy or safe.
The yellow light refers to behaviors or decisions that are negotiable. This is an opportunity for your child to make a choice, but he may need your guidance. Yellow light choices or behaviors can include eating the cookie before the sandwich, taking away someone’s toy, throwing a ball inside, refusing to pick up toys, or insisting on wearing a favorite shirt three days in a row. In these situations, adults can guide children to making healthy choices by having conversations. For example, “I know that cookie looks really good, but it is important to eat your sandwich, too. The healthy choice is to eat meals first and desserts last. Which food is the healthy choice to eat first?” When guiding your child’s choices, focus on his strengths. “What are your ideas about how to fix this?”
Green light choices and behaviors are opportunities for children to be independent because all the outcomes are positive. These situations can include choosing between two or three different activities, eating apples before a sandwich, playing alone or with others, wearing mismatched clothes, helping you set the table or helping you wash dishes, or choosing an activity for the family to do together. Having the freedom to make choices about his interests and how he expresses himself with clothing helps your child feel comfortable with who he is.
In your daily life, model a good work ethic, be aware of your own strengths, demonstrate resilience, practice kindness, and show your child what it means to have integrity. During family meals, you can share information about your work day. Talk about the things you accomplished, and if something did not go right, talk about how you worked through it. Practice kindness towards yourself and others. For example, “I worked hard today and I deserve time to relax with music. Do you want to relax with me? You worked hard today too.”
Praise and encouragement are two different ways to improve your child’s self-esteem. According to the dictionary praise is “an expression of approval,” and encouragement is “to inspire with courage.” Praise focuses on one outcome, the right or wrong answer, or feeling proud. While praise can boost self-esteem, there is also the possibility that children will become dependent upon the praise of others for making all their decisions and evaluating their work. Encouragement recognizes the process a child is going through and provides them with information that will help them learn to appreciate their own uniqueness, reflect on their work, evaluate their own achievements, and be self-reliant. Praise and encouragement are both effective tools, but encouragement should be used more often than praise. Here are some examples of praise and encouragement:
You are listening so well.
I love you no matter what.
I am so proud of you!
You must be proud of yourself!
You did it the way I told you to.
You figured that out by yourself.
I believe you can do this!
You can find more information about improving your child’s self-esteem by exploring the resources below.
References and Resources
- Differences between Praise and Encouragement (PDF) by Dr. Jane Nelson
- Encouraging a Healthy Body Image by KidsHealth
- Helping Your Child Develop a Healthy Sense of Self Esteem by Healthy Children
- Raising a Confident Child by CHS (Blog)
- They Difference Between Praise and Encouragement by PBS Parents
- Your Child’s Self-Esteem by KidsHealth
Activities for Children Under Five Years
- Activities for Infants, Toddlers, and Children
- All About Me Collage
- Positive Self-Talk Bracelets
- Sesame Street: Will.i.am Sings "What I Am" (Video)
- Songs for Positive Attitudes and Self-Esteem
Activities for School-Aged Children
- Activities from Plant Love Grow
- Feel Good Notebooks
- Games for Working Together
- Make a Me Tree
- Positive Message Cards
Resources for Tweens and Teens