7 Lessons to Help Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

7 Lessons to Help Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Top experts share the healthiest ways to help children build good self-esteem.


By: Laurie Sue Brockway

Moms have a great deal of influence on a child’s sense of self. That’s why it is so important we learn the healthiest ways to help children build good self-esteem. We spoke with several experts who helped formulate these lessons on how to develop self-esteem in children.

1. Begin young. “Right from the start, provide opportunities for kids to succeed at age-appropriate tasks by giving them responsibilities,” says psychotherapist Mia Adler Ozair. “For example, asking a 3-year-old to help clean up by picking up all the blue blocks and putting them in the basket -- a task that the majority of 3-year-old kids can handle. Upon successful completion of this task, the child is met with a big smile, a hug, or high-five, and words of praise such as ‘Wow! You did such a great job!’ As kids age, the tasks remain age-appropriate and reasonably attainable. Once kids have a taste of this type of autonomy and success, it fosters a feeling of ‘I can do it!’ This is an internal feeling that we need to nurture as kids grow.”

2. Lead with love. Nothing speaks louder than love. “Kind words and actions, shared conversations, investments of parental time with the child, all show the child that he or she is ‘worth it’ and leaves the child with a sense of being full and happy,” says Adler Ozair.

3. Offer unconditional support. Rewards should not be based only on performance, whether it’s in sports or academics. For example, telling children they will get to go to a favorite restaurant only if they win a game gives the message that only winners are worthy, says Lena E. Torgerson, MA, CC-AASP, a sports psychology coach. Along the same lines, “constantly talking about all the things the child does wrong” is another self-esteem breaker, she says.

4. Give encouragement for who they are. Children today are stressed about achieving. “We need to focus more heavily on who they are as people, not what they are doing,” says Lisa Tyndall, PhD, family therapy clinic director in Child Development and Family Relations at the College of Human Ecology in Greenville, N.C. “Talk about praise for them as people and for their character, not their tasks. Children need encouragement and reassurance that who they are, deep down, is enough.”

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5. Challenge them. Be positive, but be careful not to offer excessive praise. “Kids develop self-esteem by doing things that are difficult or challenging for them,” says Janet Lehman, MSW, child behavior therapist. “When your child was young and learned to walk, you were probably proud of them and praised them for it. But now that they’re older, it’s no longer something you probably applaud them for. The point is, you want to compliment your child on things that are difficult for them to do. When your child solves a problem that’s challenging and relevant to them now, it builds self esteem.”

6. Give a vote of confidence. When you have faith in your children, it helps them develop faith in themselves. “The most effective self-esteem-building message we can transmit to kids is, ‘I have confidence in your ability to do this.’” says Annie Fox, MEd, family coach and author of Teaching Kids to Be Good People. “Then we’ve got to step back year by year as our children step up and take more responsibility for their own lives. The goal isn’t for kids to do things in order to earn your praise. The goal is for them to develop a set of personal standards of behavior that resonates with a positive self-perception. Real and lasting self-esteem comes from within.”

7. Prepare for disappointment. Children need opportunities to try, fail, learn, and try again. It is important to teach them that rejection or loss is not the end of the world. “When kids are disappointed that they didn't do as well as they hoped, it's important to value them as individuals as well as discuss the ups and downs of life, helping them to maintain self-esteem rather than be devastated,” says psychologist Jeanette Raymond, PhD.

Ultimately, helping build your child’s self-esteem is a balancing act. “Parents are a huge source -- both good and bad -- of self-esteem for their kids, so knowing how to build your child up without overinflating their egos is very important,” says James Schwabach, MS, a performance psychology consultant. “My advice to parents is to always be positive --you don't need to purposefully bring down your child's self-esteem -- but be real.”

What lessons in self-esteem did you learn as a child?



Laurie Sue Brockway is a journalist and author who has written extensively on love, marriage, parenting, wellbeing, and emotional health. Her work has appeared in hundreds of print and online publications, including Everyday Health and The Huffington Post.

Image ©iStock.com/NicolasMcComber

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