Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem

Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem

Healthy self-esteem is like a child's armor against the challenges of the world. Kids who know their strengths and weaknesses and feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They tend to smile more readily and enjoy life. These kids are realistic and generally optimistic.

In contrast, kids with low self-esteem can find challenges to be sources of major anxiety and frustration. Those who think poorly of themselves have a hard time finding solutions to problems. If given to self-critical thoughts such as "I'm no good" or "I can't do anything right," they may become passive, withdrawn, or depressed. Faced with a new challenge, their immediate response might be "I can't."

What Is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is similar to self-worth (how much a person values himself or herself). This can change from day to day or from year to year, but overall self-esteem tends to develop from infancy and keep going until we are adults.

Self-esteem also can be defined as feeling capable while also feeling loved. A child who is happy with an achievement but does not feel loved may eventually experience low self-esteem. Likewise, a child who feels loved but is hesitant about his or her own abilities can also develop low self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem comes when a good balance is maintained.

Patterns of self-esteem start very early in life. The concept of success following effort and persistence starts early. Once people reach adulthood, it's harder to make changes to how they see and define themselves.

So, it's wise to think about developing and promoting self-esteem during childhood. As kids try, fail, try again, fail again, and then finally succeed, they develop ideas about their own capabilities. At the same time, they're creating a self-concept based on interactions with other people. This is why parental involvement is key to helping kids form accurate, healthy self-perceptions.

Parents and caregivers can promote healthy self-esteem by showing encouragement and enjoyment in many areas. Avoid focusing on one specific area; for example, success on a spelling test, which can lead to kids feeling that they're only as valuable as their test scores.

Signs of Unhealthy and Healthy Self-Esteem

Self-esteem fluctuates as kids grow. It's frequently changed and fine-tuned, because it is affected by a child's experiences and new perceptions. So it helps to be aware of the signs of both healthy and unhealthy self-esteem.

Kids with low self-esteem may not want to try new things and may speak negatively about themselves: "I'm stupid," "I'll never learn how to do this," or "What's the point? Nobody cares about me anyway." They may exhibit a low tolerance for frustration, giving up easily or waiting for somebody else to take over. They tend to be overly critical of and easily disappointed in themselves.

Kids with low self-esteem see temporary setbacks as permanent, intolerable conditions, and a sense of pessimism prevails. This can place kids at risk for stress and mental health problems, as well as real difficulties solving different kinds of problems and challenges they encounter.

Kids with healthy self-esteem tend to enjoy interacting with others. They're comfortable in social settings and enjoys group activities as well as independent pursuits. When challenges arise, they can work toward finding solutions and voice discontent without belittling themselves or others. For example, rather than saying, "I'm an idiot," a child with healthy self-esteem says, "I don't understand this." They know their strengths and weaknesses, and accept them. A sense of optimism prevails.

How Parents Can Help

How can a parent help to foster healthy self-esteem in a child? These tips can make a big difference:

When promoting healthy self-esteem, it's important to not have too much or too little but "just enough." Make sure your kids don't end up feeling that if they're average or normal at something, it's the same as not being good or special.

Finding Professional Help

If you suspect your child has low self-esteem, consider getting professional help. Child and adolescent therapists and counselors can help identify coping strategies to help deal with problems at school or home in ways that help kids feel better about themselves.

Therapy can help kids learn to view themselves and the world more realistically and help with problem-solving. Developing the confidence to understand when you can deal with a problem and when to ask for help is vital to positive self esteem.

Taking responsibility and pride in who you are is a sure sign of healthy self-esteem and the greatest gift parents can give to their child.

Reviewed by: Michelle New, PhD
Date reviewed: March 2012





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.





Bookmark and Share

Related Resources
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) AACAP offers up-to-date information on child and adolescent development and issues.
OrganizationAmerican Psychological Association (APA) The APA provides information and education about a variety of mental health issues for people of all ages.
Related Articles
Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting Parenting is incredibly challenging and rewarding. Here are nine child-rearing tips that can help.
Why Am I So Sad? Feeling down? Got the blues? Everyone feels sad sometimes. Find out more in this article for kids.
The Story on Self-Esteem You need self-esteem, but it doesn't always come naturally. Find out what it means to feel good about yourself.
Help! Is This My Body? Your body's changing - and if you've ever felt out of step with it, you're not alone. Find out how to deal with body changes and feelings in this article.
How Can I Feel Better About My Body? It's normal to wish you could change something about your body. Find out more about these feelings in this article for kids.
Body Image and Self-Esteem When your body changes, so can your image of yourself. Find out how your body image affects your self-esteem and what you can do.
How Can I Stop Focusing on My Flaws? Find out what the experts have to say.
Is My Body OK? Am I Having Self-Esteem Issues? Find out what the experts have to say.
A Guy's Guide to Body Image Many people think of guys as being carefree when it comes to appearance. But guys spend plenty of time in front of the mirror. And some worry just as much as girls do about their looks.
Encouraging a Healthy Body Image A healthy and positive body image means liking your body, appreciating it, and feeling grateful for its qualities and capabilities. Parents can help kids develop a healthy body image.
How Can I Improve My Self-Esteem? We all experience problems with self-esteem at certain times in our lives — especially during our teens when we are figuring out who we are and where we fit in the world.
Dealing With Feelings When You're Overweight If a person is obese or struggling with extra weight, it can add to the emotional ups and downs of being a teen. Get some tips on coping here.
Is My Daughter Too Concerned With Her Looks? Find out what the experts have to say.
Am I in a Healthy Relationship? Does your boyfriend or girlfriend treat you as well as you treat him or her? Does your BF or GF support you in good times as well as bad? Does he or she get who you really are? Find out if you're in a healthy relationship.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder For teens, concerns about appearances often take center stage. But if these concerns are all-consuming, cause extreme distress, and keep them from doing and thinking about other things, it may be a sign of a condition called body dysmorphic disorder.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder For some people, worries about appearance become extreme and upsetting, interfering with their lives, a condition called body dysmorphic disorder.
My Daughter Puts Herself Down -- How Can I Help Her? Find out what the experts have to say.
How Can I Help My Child Develop Healthy Self-Esteem? Find out what the experts have to say.
Raising Confident Kids It takes confidence to be a kid. And while each child is a little different, parents can follow some general guidelines to build kids' confidence.
Feeling Too Tall or Too Short How do you like your height? Check out this article if you feel too tall or too short.
iGrow iGrow
Sign up for our parent enewsletter