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Helping Children Build Self-Esteem

ParentLink, 4-H/Youth Development, University of Missouri-Columbia


Children's self-esteem may be thought of as a collection of pictures they carry with them that reflects how they feel about themselves. Children begin developing this collection early in life, and parents have a great influence on how they come to view themselves. Children who grow up with a healthy self-esteem have parents who believe in them and give them opportunities to succeed. These children know that the adults in their lives love and accept them. Children who grow up with a healthy self-esteem welcome new opportunities and learn to take risks as they grow older. While parents cannot give their children self-esteem, there are ways that parents can nurture development of healthy self-esteem in their children.


What do children need to develop a healthy self-esteem?


  • Commitment from adults who care for and believe in them;
  • Communication with adults who show interest in what the children are doing, thinking, and feeling;
  • Reasonable and consistent boundaries (rules for behavior) that are understandable and developmentally appropriate;
  • Appreciation that enhances children's sense of self-worth;
  • Coping strategies such as sharing, managing anger, resolving conflict, and dealing with stress to see them through the tough times in life; and
  • Positive role modeling from adults who demonstrate positive self-esteem.


What can I do to help my child build a healthy self-esteem?


  • When your child misbehaves, focus on the behavior, not the child. Let your children know you care about and that you accept them, no matter what.
  • Give encouragement with words and hugs.
  • Praise children's efforts honestly and sincerely with specific comments rather than just general ones such as "Great job!" Instead say, "I like the way you helped me get everything ready for our picnic." "I know you really worked hard on your art project."
  • Let your child know you value his or her individuality. "I love you just the way you are."
  • Help children explore opportunities to find out who they are, rather than persuading them to be who you think they should be.
  • Provide many different opportunities for children to experience success that are challenging but not too difficult.
  • Offer a variety of activities to allow children to express their ideas and feelings creatively.
  • Let children do things for themselves that they are capable of doing safely, such as helping you to prepare a meal, folding laundry, and washing the car (even if you can do these things faster and better).
  • Listen to your children and be supportive of their ideas and concerns.
  • Be a positive model for your kids by showing you have good self-esteem.
  • Don't rescue children from difficult situations. Although you should be available if they need your help, allow them to work through their own problems. This helps children to build self-confidence.
  • Balance your need to protect children with their need to take risks and test their abilities to meet new challenges.
  • Show respect for children by giving them choices when appropriate and then respecting their decisions.
  • Offer unconditional love and the gift of your time with them.


Are there some things I should not do that might harm my child's developing self-esteem?


  • Distinguish the child's misbehavior from the child herself. Let your child know you still love him or her, even though you don't like the crayon drawings on the wall.
  • Don't call children names or label them with negative words.
  • Don't use sarcasm with children because they often interpret words literally.
  • Avoid compliments with added critical comments such as "You did a nice job cleaning your room, but it looks like you forgot to dust the bookshelf."
  • Avoid talking about your child when he or she is within hearing.
  • Avoid comparing your child to other children; each child is unique and should be valued just the way he or she is, with unique strengths and weaknesses.
  • Avoid trying to mold children into who you think they should be instead of offering them opportunities to explore and find out who they are for themselves.
  • Don't wait until your child accomplishes a task or masters a new behavior to demonstrate your love. Children need to hear and feel a parent's love regardless of what the child does.





Building Your Child's Self-Esteem. (2001). Child Welfare League of America. [On-line]. Available:

I'm glad I'm me: Developing self-esteem in young children. [On-line]. Available:

Nelsen, J., Erwin, C., & Duffy, R. (1999). Positive discipline: A-Z. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing.

Nelsen, J., Erwin, C., & Duffy, R. (1998). Positive discipline: The first three years. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing.

Self-esteem and young children: You are the key. National Association for the Education of Young Children.


Last Updated 05/05/2009









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