What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is having confidence in your own abilities, believing in your worth, and feeling good about who you are. A healthy self-esteem is the best gift a child can receive. Children who have a healthy self-esteem feel loved and accepted.

This allows them to believe in themselves, try new things, and bounce back from failure. When children have an unhealthy self-esteem, they doubt themselves and give up before trying. They often develop a fear of failure that prevents them from reaching their full potential. Let’s take a look at the example below.

A Case Example

Twelve year old Maria always does her best to make her dad proud. She does her chores with great attention to detail and is a hardworking student. However, despite her best efforts, Maria’s dad is always critical of her.

“You call that making your bed?” “How is that your best?” “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” These were some of the criticisms her father constantly made of her. He believed that if he pushed Maria to do better, then she would excel in life beyond what he ever did. Maria’s father believed that if he constantly praised her, she would get comfortable and stop trying to be better.

He didn’t realize that is constant criticism was breaking her spirit. Maria’s always anxious and constantly second guesses herself. When she makes a mistake, she is just as hard on herself as her father is on her. She sets unrealistic expectations for herself and when she doesn’t achieve her goal, she tells herself it’s because she is stupid and not smart enough.

Maria feels overwhelmed at school and at home. She hates that she can’t make her dad proud. She feels like a failure all the time. She’s starting to wonder why she tries at all. At this point, she just wants to give up and stop trying. “I’m just not good enough,” is what she tells herself on a daily basis.

Why Is Having a Healthy Self-Esteem Important?

Healthy self-esteem plays a significant role in your ability to succeed. When you believe in your abilities, you are more likely to try new things and bounce back from failure. This is important because life isn’t a success only journey. You will get knocked down. Your self-esteem will determine whether or not you get back up.

As in the case of Maria, when children don’t believe in themselves, it’s hard for them to bounce back. Their confidence slowly erodes and in many cases they develop learned helplessness.

Signs of a Healthy Self-Esteem

Children with healthy self-esteem are aware of their personal strengths and their shortcomings. They know that they are enough and don’t need other people to validate their worth. They also tend to:

  • Feel valued and accepted by others
  • Believe they are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect
  • Are aware of their strengths and positive qualities
  • Think positively of themselves
  • Take pride in themselves and their accomplishments
  • Forgive themselves when they make mistakes
  • Have good relationships with others
  • Be confident in trying new things

Signs of Unhealthy Self-Esteem

Children with unhealthy self-esteem have a poor opinion of them self, often feel hopeless and are prone to depression. They base their worth on their accomplishments and on what other people think of them. Additionally, they tend to:

  • Think negatively of themselves
  • Focus on their failures instead of their successes
  • Get paralyzed by a fear of failure
  • Feel inadequate and insecure
  • Criticize themselves
  • Self-sabotage
  • Believe they are unworthy
  • Let others treat them poorly
  • Have poor boundaries
  • Doubt themselves and their abilities
  • Have destructive relationships

How Does Self-Esteem Develop?

Our self-esteem develops based on our life experiences and the messages we get from those around us. Our experiences in childhood has significant impact on how we come to view ourselves and our worth.

Children’s successes, failures, and how they were treated by those around them (parents, relatives, peers, teachers, coaches, etc.) writes on the slate of their developing self-esteem. When children receive messages that they are of value and worthwhile, they learn to believe in themselves. However, if the messages they receive from others is that they are not good enough and not worthy of respect, they often develop a poor self-image. This in turn leads to poor self-esteem.

How Can You Boost Children’s Self-Esteem?

The following are some ways that you can help children develop a positive self-image and boost their self-esteem:

  • Help children understand that they are of value. Listen to their opinions and treat their concerns with respect. This lets them know that they are important and their voice matters.
  • Allow children to try things on their own. Instead of doing everything for them, let them try to do some things on their own The more they succeed at doing things independently, the more they learn to trust themselves to meet their own needs.
  • Teach children that everyone makes mistakes. When kids accept mistakes as part of life, they are less likely to beat themselves up when they mess up. Children need to understand that no one is perfect and that no one expects them to be perfect.
  • Help children monitor their self-talk. How kids talk to themselves has significant impact on their self-esteem. If they are constantly telling themselves they suck, overtime they come to believe that they indeed suck. On the other hand, if their self-talk is positive, they are able to separate their actions from their worth. If they make a mistake, they don’t berate themselves. They learn from it and do different next time around
  • Provide children with genuine praise. If you gush over a child’s mediocre accomplishments like it’s the greatest thing since slice bread, they will know that you are being disingenuous. Kids are good at spotting that! Instead, provide them with specific praise. For example, saying to a child “I really like how you pushed yourself to get every rebound during the game today” is more believable than telling them “you played like Shaquille O’Neill on the basketball court today!” Trust me, just don’t do it!
  • Teach children to practice self-compassion. When children practice self-compassion, they treat themselves with the same loving kindness that they would a good friend. They take the time to practice self-care. Practicing self-compassion helps children better able to manage the stresses of life.

Here are some additional ways that you can help children boost their self-esteem: (Link articles)

Activities That Boost Children’s Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem Building Activities For Kids

Self-Esteem Resources For Kids

4 Tips For Teaching Kids Affirmation

How Parents Can Create a Growth Mindset Home Environment