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7 Tips on How to Help Your Child Build High Self-Esteem

| What is Self-esteem | Benefits of High Self-Esteem | Is High Self-esteem the Answer to All Problems | How to Help Children Build Self-esteem |

She is passionate about theater and has a beautiful voice. Her teacher announces that her favorite play is being produced at the school. Does she audition, or does she think, “I’m not good enough to be cast”?

Despite working hard, Zach did not receive the grade he expected for his term paper. Does he ask his teacher for feedback, or does he think, “I am dumb and can never get anything right”?

As our children grow up, they will face problems, risks, and conflicts. How high their self-esteem is, or how they see themselves, determines how they feel and what they do to handle difficult situations.

What is Self-esteem

Self-esteem is a person’s overall positive sense of themselves. It captures how a person perceives themselves as being respected and accepted, and whether they believe they are of value to society and can make a positive impact on society​1​.

Self-esteem has different dimensions: self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity​2​.

boy jumps up with confident and self esteem

Self-worth: Do I Deserve?  

Self-worth is the degree a person feels positive about themselves including whether they feel good and valuable, view themselves as deserving of respect and acceptance, and experience self-liking.

It is often the internalization of how people treated them in their formative years​3​.

Self-efficacy: Am I capable?

Self-efficacy is the belief that a person is competent, can affect the environment, and has control over their own life. It is a healthy sense of self-competence.

This dimension is built through positive experiences of attaining one’s goal or achieving positive outcomes through their actions​4​.

While some researchers focus on the first two dimensions of self-esteem, called global self-esteem, others believe there is a third dimension – authenticity.

Authenticity: Who Am I?

Authenticity is knowing that one can be their “real self” to others, expressing themselves in ways that are coherent with their inner feelings and thoughts.

It is often influenced by the beliefs, values, and morals in one’s culture​5​.

Benefits of High Self-Esteem

There are significant positive relationships between good self-esteem, better academic achievements​6​, and more prosocial behavior​7​.

Stable and higher self-esteem is also correlated with better mental health and functioning​8​, including less anxiety and fewer depressive symptoms​9​.

On the other hand, poor self-esteem predicts poorer mental and physical health, worse economic prospects, more risky behavior in adolescence​10​, and higher levels of criminal or antisocial behavior during adulthood​11​.

Unstable self-esteem is also a strong predictor of mental health conditions such as depression​12​.

Is High Self-esteem the Answer to All Problems

There are numerous studies linking positive self-esteem with positive behavioral outcomes, but most of them are correlated in nature. It is hard to establish a definite causal relationship.

It may be that higher self-esteem leads to better academic performance, or it may be that better academic performance leads to higher self-esteem.

It has been found in some studies that after controlling family background variables, such as socioeconomic status, global self-esteem does not predict achievement, indicating that self-esteem enhancement alone cannot solve the problem of academic failure​13,14​.

Some researchers believed that self-esteem didn’t cause better performance. Instead, it fostered higher aspirations, motivation, and persistence. Children with high-self esteem were able to set higher goals and didn’t quit even if they failed or had limited resources​15​.

Therefore, having higher self-esteem doesn’t necessarily solve all problems for our children, but it can lead to a very empowering cycle: healthy self-esteem helps one have the confidence to try and reach their goals, and reaching goals strengthens their self-esteem.

A high level of self-esteem is undoubtedly an important factor in attaining life satisfaction.

How to Help Children Build High Self-esteem

Here are what parents can do to strengthen the three dimensions of self-esteem – self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity.

Give unconditional love and support

Children need to feel that they are unconditionally loved and that they have a solid support system to have high self-worth​16​.

The best way to show unconditional love is to be supportive, accepting, and encouraging instead of critical. 

Acknowledge children’s positive behavior and achievement.

Accept your child’s authentic self. Every child and even siblings can have very different personalities and strengths, so don’t compare them to each other (or to yourself). 

Give them opportunities to find out what they enjoy and develop their own talents, even if these may be very different from your expectations.

Find New Challenges

The Self-Determination Theory suggests that humans have an innate need for competency. Being able to conquer difficult challenges and learn from our experience is a great way to build self-efficacy. 

Find new challenges for your child that are challenging, but not impossible to overcome to build their sense of competence​17​.

Praise Genuinely

It may sound weird, but there is a right way and a wrong way to praise children to build their sense of self-efficacy.

One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is to think that praising their child lavishly is the best way to build self-confidence. But it can actually backfire leading to low self-efficacy.

A job is a “good job” when something is done better than the average. If everything is a “good job”, then nothing is good. It is just average. 

Parents who praise everything their children do as a “good job” are essentially saying that they do not hold them to higher expectations because they don’t think their children can reach them.

So, praise sincerely for what it is​18​.

Praise their effort or the process rather than the result to nurture a growth mindset so that they believe in their own ability.

Saying, “I like how creative you were when coming up with a solution” is better than “The work is beautiful.” 

Praising the effort (creative) and process (coming up with a solution) encourages them to do more of them. However, praising the result may encourage some children to believe their work must be perfect and become afraid to try new things.

Also See: How to Praise a Child

Parenting Styles

There is no lack of studies on the relationship between parenting style and self-esteem. Unfortunately, the results have been inconclusive.

There is, however, general consensus that parents who are more accepting and less controlling help their children develop their self-esteem. These parents are warm, supportive, and involved with their children’s education​19​.

In contrast, authoritarian, strict, or controlling parents tend to raise children with a negative view and a lack of confidence. These are parents who may have a high standard but are cold and critical of their children​20​.

Rigid rules and psychological control limit their chance to make choices and express preferences. Hovering over them and giving help before they need it, or rescuing them at the first sign of difficulty, deprives them of a chance to learn, grow, and develop their self-efficacy.

Teach Positive Self-Talk

Self-talk is inner speech or self-statement that one tells themselves.

People with low self esteem tend to overgeneralize the implications of negative experiences to create negative thinking. And then these negative beliefs lead to lower self-esteem. Together, they create self-esteem issues in a vicious cycle.

Good self-esteem comes from believing that you are a valuable and worthy person.

Help children develop positive self-talk or replace negative thoughts with positive self-talk. Learn about their negative self-talk and help them reappraise​21​. Help them appreciate any good thing in life.

Don’t Ignore Peer Victimization

Peer victimization is related to a plethora of negative outcomes including low self-worth. Bullying can lead to adverse mental health outcomes, especially if the child is younger or if the bullying situation lasts for a long time​22​.

Encourage Exercise

Physical exercises can not only enhance children’s physical health but also their mental health. Recent studies show that exercising can improve self-concept and self-worth in children and adolescents​23​.

Final Thoughts on High Self Esteem in Children

Helping children build healthy global self-esteem means empowering a child to become the best version of themselves. Self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity play an important role. Focus on them and your child will believe that they are loved and capable, not because you tell them, but because they feel it.


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