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Self-esteem in children

4-minute read

Self-esteem is a child’s overall sense of worth or personal value. It describes the way they feel about themselves. A child is not born with a high or low self-esteem – they have to learn how to feel good about themselves.

It’s important to help children develop self-esteem. If children feel okay about themselves most of the time, they will be more likely to try new things, make friends and deal with problems they come across in their lives.

To have healthy self-esteem, children need to feel like they:

  • belong
  • are safe and secure
  • know they are loved and accepted
  • can do things successfully and be useful
  • are independent, unique and special
  • are happy

A child’s self-esteem is formed by the way they see themselves and also by the way others behave towards them. The way you think about them and treat them is very important in helping them to feel good about themselves.

It takes patience and persistence for adults to help their children develop high self-esteem, but the rewards are wonderful: children that have the confidence to try new things, who believe that they are worthwhile people and can succeed in life.

Building children’s self-esteem

As soon as babies are born, they begin to learn about the world. It is from these early experiences, and from what they see, hear and feel within the family, that they start to develop ideas about themselves. They learn whether they are loved, valued and belong, and whether they are okay or not.

Young children view themselves in relation to what they can do, like running, building things or playing. The more confident they are in doing things, the more their self-esteem grows. They will also be able to fit in better at playgroup, preschool, and later at school and clubs.

As children grow, they challenge themselves to learn new skills. This is their own internal motivation to succeed. Experiencing both success and failure as part of living influences children’s self-esteem.

Children who succeed (by themselves or with help) will try again, gaining more successes, satisfaction and high self-esteem. Repeated failure may mean that children lose confidence, give up trying and could develop a low opinion of themselves.

It’s important that you don’t end up doing something for them to save time and your patience. Your children will get used to you doing it for them and not experience the sense of achievement in doing something all by themselves.

Praise and encourage your child

It’s important to help your child to develop self-esteem by encouraging them. Childhood is about learning new things, so it is very important not only to praise your child for completing things they are doing well, but also for achieving small steps on the way. Encourage your kids to try again if they do not get it quite right the first time.

Teachers, family and friends should also praise children’s achievements and successes, no matter how small they may seem.

Putting children down and criticising them can really damage their self-esteem.

Ways to increase your child’s self-esteem

Improving your child’s confidence will boost their self-esteem. As a parent, you can build your child’s self-esteem by giving them your time and showing you are interested in what they are doing.

You can set realistic goals for your child and encourage them to have a go. Accept if they make mistakes then celebrate when they improve. Encourage their interests and friendships and make sure they feel like they are being heard and that they can make decisions for themselves.

You can also give them lots of hugs, smile at them a lot, and let them express their feelings.

Encourage your child to believe they can succeed, break down large tasks into smaller steps that they can achieve, and know they can ask for help if they need it.

Coping with disappointment

Learning positive ways to cope with disappointment when they do not get something right or cannot get their way is also important for the development of children’s self-esteem.

Guiding toddlers and preschoolers through these emotions can be difficult, but by learning to cope with their own emotions, they increase their self-esteem.

Confidence at school

When they are at school, show your child that you value them for their individual talents rather than only for their marks. Focus on their strengths. Find out about the school and attend information sessions. Make time to listen to your child about what they are doing at school. If they are being bullied, speak to their teachers or get professional help.

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Last reviewed: May 2021

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