Ways to Encourage Your Child's Self-Esteem

Children with healthy self-esteem see many positive life benefits, including:

  • The ability to make friends
  • Creativity
  • Confidence in their decisions
  • Confidence in their own values and beliefs
  • Seeing themselves as worthy of proper treatment
  • Willingness to try new things
  • An easier time behaving well
  • An easier time saying “no” to uncomfortable or unsafe situations
  • Resilience and willingness to try again after failure

As a parent, you are the most influential person in your child’s life. Here are some ways you can help to encourage your child’s self-esteem.

Help your child to do things themselves

Sometimes, it might seem easier to tie your child’s shoes or organize their toys for them. However, letting your child try to do things on their own is an ideal way to help them learn in a safe environment. You can show them how to tie their shoe at first, then encourage them to try it on their own. Let them know it’s okay if they make a mistake, and offer support and guidance if they ask. Try to gauge the appropriate difficulty of a task so it’s within their ability.

Empowering your child to make their own choices is another good way to develop their self-esteem. For example, they can choose between their three favorite sweaters, or decide whether they want eggs or waffles for breakfast. This will help them to make confident decisions in a low-risk scenario.

Don’t over-praise your child

Part of healthy self-esteem is feeling competent and confident. These skills are developed by trial and error, and by challenging themselves and practicing. As a parent, you want your child to know that they can do anything. However, praising your child for every action may have the opposite effect. According to Dr. Jim Taylor, “If you keep telling your child she is already doing a fantastic job, you’re saying she no longer needs to push herself.” In addition, children often already have a sense of how well they’ve performed an action, and if they don’t believe they’ve earned your praise, it can confuse them or teach them to not trust their own instincts.

Praise effort instead of results

Praise such as “You’re working so hard at your drawing, and I love the way you colored in those flowers” is more productive and encouraging than, “You’re the best artist in the whole world!” With encouragement on effort, attitude, and progress, your child is more likely to keep going. These are specific, easy-to-understand things that your child can focus on and relate to, and shows them what they can do to meet their goals.

Teach your child that mistakes are okay

As an adult, you’re accustomed to not accomplishing what you set out to accomplish. You know that you can try again, or switch tactics and try another way. However, children don’t have this experience, and can take failure very personally. To help your child feel comfortable with making mistakes, teach them that failure is a learning experience. You can do this in the moment, by saying things like, “It’s okay if you can’t climb up the rope ladder right now. Maybe you can try practicing on that shorter ladder that doesn’t swing around too much.” You can also share your own stories of times you didn’t accomplish a task, but found another way to your goal.

Focus on your child’s strengths

A person with healthy self-esteem recognizes that they can’t do everything. Rather, they focus more on their strengths than on their weaknesses. You can build your child’s self-esteem by encouraging them to focus on things they love and are good at. For example, if your child’s siblings are all play on the local soccer team, it can seem natural that your child would join them. But if they prefer another activity such as reading or ballet, encouraging that will show them that they are individuals with their own strengths that are worth pursuing. They will also feel more willing to improve and take risks to accomplish their goals.

Model good self-esteem

Nobody’s perfect – and it’s important for your child to realize this – but modeling good self-esteem gives your child a real-world example of how they can behave as well. Let your child see how you tackle everyday tasks such as creating a shopping list, preparing a meal, or making small talk with neighbors. In particular, you may want to focus on how you work through problems such as forgetting your shopping list at home, or politely turning down a dinner invitation when you have other commitments. Show your child how you cope with setbacks, face new challenges, and remain patient in the face of obstacles.

Helping your child to develop their self-esteem is a rewarding process, and will set them up with an important foundation for success later in life. Above all, remain patient and make sure your child knows that you love and support them just the way they are.