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 society1.
Self-esteem has different dimensions: self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity2.
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 years3.
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 actions4.
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 culture5.
Benefits of High Self-Esteem
There are significant positive relationships between good self-esteem, better academic achievements6, and more prosocial behavior7.
Stable and higher self-esteem is also correlated with better mental health and functioning8, including less anxiety and fewer depressive symptoms9.
On the other hand, poor self-esteem predicts poorer mental and physical health, worse economic prospects, more risky behavior in adolescence10, and higher levels of criminal or antisocial behavior during adulthood11.
Unstable self-esteem is also a strong predictor of mental health conditions such as depression12.
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 failure13,14.
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 resources15.
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-worth16.
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 competence17.
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 is18.
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
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 education19.
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 children20.
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 reappraise21. 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 time22.
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 adolescents23.
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.
- 1.Martín-Albo J, Núñez JL, Navarro JG, Grijalvo F. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale: Translation and Validation in University Students. Span J Psychol. Published online November 2007:458-467. doi:10.1017/s1138741600006727
- 2.Stets JE, Burke PJ. Self-Esteem and Identities. Sociological Perspectives. Published online July 3, 2014:409-433. doi:10.1177/0731121414536141
- 3.Tafarodi RW, Swann Jr. WB. Self-Linking and Self-Competence as Dimensions of Global Self-Esteem: Initial Validation of a Measure. Journal of Personality Assessment. Published online October 1995:322-342. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa6502_8
- 4.Milne AB. Decomposing Global Self-Esteem. J person. Published online August 2002:443-484. doi:10.1111/1467-6494.05017
- 5.Impett EA, Sorsoli L, Schooler D, Henson JM, Tolman DL. Girls’ relationship authenticity and self-esteem across adolescence. Developmental Psychology. Published online May 2008:722-733. doi:10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.2062
- 6.Lane J, Lane AM, Kyprianou A. SELF-EFFICACY, SELF-ESTEEM AND THEIR IMPACT ON ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE. soc behav pers. Published online January 1, 2004:247-256. doi:10.2224/sbp.2004.32.3.247
- 7.Fu X, Padilla‐Walker LM, Brown MN. Longitudinal relations between adolescents’ self‐esteem and prosocial behavior toward strangers, friends and family. Journal of Adolescence. Published online April 10, 2017:90-98. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.04.002
- 8.Paradise AW, Kernis MH. Self-esteem and Psychological Well-being: Implications of Fragile Self-esteem. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Published online October 2002:345-361. doi:10.1521/jscp.21.4.345.22598
- 9.Sowislo JF, Orth U. Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin. Published online January 2013:213-240. doi:10.1037/a0028931
- 10.Veselska Z, Geckova AM, Orosova O, Gajdosova B, van Dijk JP, Reijneveld SA. Self-esteem and resilience: The connection with risky behavior among adolescents. Addictive Behaviors. Published online March 2009:287-291. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2008.11.005
- 11.Trzesniewski KH, Donnellan MB, Moffitt TE, Robins RW, Poulton R, Caspi A. Low self-esteem during adolescence predicts poor health, criminal behavior, and limited economic prospects during adulthood. Developmental Psychology. Published online March 2006:381-390. doi:10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.111
- 12.Franck E, De Raedt R. Self-esteem reconsidered: Unstable self-esteem outperforms level of self-esteem as vulnerability marker for depression. Behaviour Research and Therapy. Published online July 2007:1531-1541. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2007.01.003
- 13.Bachman JG, O’Malley PM. Self-concepts, self-esteem, and educational experiences: The frog pond revisited (again). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online January 1986:35-46. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168
- 14.Muijs RD. Predictors of academic achievement and academic self-concept: a longitudinal perspective. British Journal of Educational Psychology. Published online September 1997:263-277. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8279.1997.tb01243.x
- 15.Mann M. Self-esteem in a broad-spectrum approach for mental health promotion. Health Education Research. Published online May 20, 2004:357-372. doi:10.1093/her/cyg041
- 16.Kernis MH, Brown AC, Brody GH. Fragile Self‐Esteem in Children and Its Associations With Perceived Patterns of Parent‐Child Communication. Journal of Personality. Published online April 2000:225-252. doi:10.1111/1467-6494.00096
- 17.Komarraju M, Dial C. Academic identity, self-efficacy, and self-esteem predict self-determined motivation and goals. Learning and Individual Differences. Published online May 2014:1-8. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2014.02.004
- 18.Henderlong Corpus J, Lepper MR. The Effects of Person Versus Performance Praise on Children’s Motivation: Gender and age as moderating factors. Educational Psychology. Published online August 2007:487-508. doi:10.1080/01443410601159852
- 19.Zakeri H, Karimpour M. Parenting Styles and Self-esteem. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. Published online 2011:758-761. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.11.302
- 20.Bun JR, Louiselle PA, Misukanis TM, Mueller RA. Effects of Parental Authoritarianism and Authoritativeness on Self-Esteem. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. Published online June 1988:271-282. doi:10.1177/0146167288142006
- 21.Burnett PC. Self-talk in upper elementary school children: Its relationship with irrational beliefs, self-esteem, and depression. J Rational-Emot Cognitive-Behav Ther. Published online September 1994:181-188. doi:10.1007/bf02354595
- 22.Miller David, Topping Keith, Thurston Allen. Peer tutoring in reading: The effects of role and organization on two dimensions of self-esteem. British Journal of Educational Psychology. Published online September 2010:417-433. doi:10.1348/000709909×481652
- 23.Liu M, Wu L, Ming Q. How Does Physical Activity Intervention Improve Self-Esteem and Self-Concept in Children and Adolescents? Evidence from a Meta-Analysis. Wallander JL, ed. PLoS ONE. Published online August 4, 2015:e0134804. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0134804