Building Self-Esteem In Children: Six Things Parents Can Do

One of the greatest gifts parents can give children is instilling in them the knowledge of their self-worth and value. However, building self-esteem in children does not happens randomly or overnight.

A healthy self-esteem is developed over time by gaining confidence in your achievement of many small successes and being supported and loved by others who value your individuality and recognize your accomplishments.

In an age of an emphasis on group work and cooperative learning combined with the pressure to conform to group standards rather than to excel as an individual, it’s sometimes hard for children to build their self worth. Here’s six ways parents can boost their children’s self-esteem and help them learn to accept and embrace their uniqueness.


1. Encourage Competitiveness

Encourage children to become involved in sports, hobbies and activities where there are clear-cut winners and losers. While the “everyone is a winner” theory sounds good on the surface, it does not prepare children for the reality of the real world, where sometimes you do edge out the competition and get the job, the promotion, or the award, but other times, you lose to another applicant, another co-worker, or another contestant.


As an example, sports such as martial arts teach children core values like responsibility, discipline, sportsmanship and respect while allowing them to compete against others as well as against themselves. They learn that whether they earn a medal or not, if they have given 100 percent and performed at their peak performance, they are worthy and successful. They learn to celebrate and to recognize others successes and to strive to be the medal winner in the next tournament or competition.

Additionally, encourage their participation in team sports. Learning to be a good team player and work cooperatively with others is an important facet of becoming more self-confident, and while it’s fun to be part of the winning team, learning to lose graciously is a good skill as well.

2. Insist They Finish What They Start

It’s hard to gain self-confidence if you never finish a task or achieve a goal, so it’s important to insist that children finish whatever task, project or activity they start. For instance, if your child wants to take clarinet lessons, have a chat with them and set up some guidelines such as: if you start taking clarinet lessons at the beginning of the school year, then you must continue taking them to the end of the school year, even if you discover you don’t really care for the clarinet or decide the instrument is too hard to master. Write up a contract that both parent and child sign.

This accountability may make your child decide he or she really doesn’t want to take the clarinet lessons, and that’s okay. Holding them responsible to finish what they start helps them develop self confidence in their skills and abilities, and may even encourage them to try harder to reach a goal that seems unachievable when the going gets rough.


3. Focus on Quality not Quantity Time

The concept here is to set and to observe regularly date nights with mom or dad, where the child is the focus of the parent’s attention. The goal is for the parent to demonstrate to a child that he or she is loved and valued. What does this mean to parents? Date nights should never get cancelled except for emergencies, because it’s hard to convince children of their value and self-worth if work or other activities are always given preference over scheduled times with them.

Avoid falling into the movie and dinner rut because while watching a movie together is enjoyable, it doesn’t allow for the free flow of conversation and communication that needs to happen in developing relationships. Start early with your children to open those lines of communication, and make sure you listen to what they say and let them know you value their thoughts and opinions. Feeling affirmed by others makes people feel worthy and boosts their self-image.

4. Let Them Make Some Decisions

Obviously, children can’t make all the decisions for themselves and they shouldn’t be allowed to. However, being unable to make any decisions about where you will go, what you will eat, or how you will dress can make one feel out of control and cause low self-esteem. Allowing children to make selected decisions about their life gives them a sense of control and is a good vehicle for improving their self-confidence.

Here’s some tips on how to work this into your family’s lifestyle.

  • Let them choose the foods they want for school lunches and be responsible for packing their lunches.
  • Set some guidelines about appropriate reading or television viewing subjects, and then let them decide what to read or watch.
  • Allow them to pick out and wear clothing that adheres to school or family dress code rules.

5. Teach Them To Celebrate Their Uniqueness

Kids can be cruel to other children, especially if the other child has a disability or is not “just like the other kids.” In fact, something as simple as being the only left-handed child in a group of right-handed children can lead to problems sometimes.

If you have a child with a disability, program them from childhood to embrace the reality that they are unique and valuable just the way they are. For example, a child who is left-handed could be told, “You are very special because most people are right-handed but you are left-handed. You’re rare and valuable because you are unique.”

Note: Be careful about attaching labels to children’s behaviors or disabilities because the tendency is for the label to define the child, and that is not always the best choice.

For instance, a child with autism is more than just autistic. Autism is one facet of his or her make-up but not the sum total of his or her capabilities or characteristics. That same child could be a talented artistic, a skilled musician or hold a black belt degree in Tae Kwondo depending on the level of self-confidence and self esteem he or she has developed.

6. Use Self-esteem Activities as Teaching Tools

While it’s important for parents to create opportunities for children to gain self-confidence, it’s just as important to expect kids to be a part of the process. Here’s some ideas for activities to build self worth in children:

Create a Book, Scrapbook or DVD

Help them compile a record of their life to date that chronicles their major achievements or milestones. Include pictures of them holding trophies or awards, newspaper clippings about their accomplishments, programs from their band or choir concert and so on.

Journal or Make Posters

Encourage them to keep a journal or make a poster showing skills they have or things they have accomplished. If they are too young to write, let them cut or tear pictures out of magazines showing things they can do such as brush their teeth or comb their hair, and then invite them to glue the pictures onto sheets of construction page folded into a booklet.

Ask them to tell you about the pictures, and write their words in the book. Put their name on it and mark the date it was created. It will be fun later on to look back on works like these and compare their progress, and it provides them with a visual, tangible reminder of their skills and abilities.

Compare and Contrast

Pick out a movie or television show with strong pro-family themes such as the Walton’s. Watch an episode together and then talk about ways your family is similar to the Walton’s and ways your family is different.

Discuss the actions and behaviors of the various family members in the TV show or movie, identify their strengths and weaknesses and then compare/contrast those with your family. Identifying how we are similar to others and yet different from them helps build up one’s self-esteem, especially when we see others make the same mistakes we might have made.

Trace Their Genealogy

Create a family tree. Knowing your heritage and family history is a good way to develop self-esteem and self-worth. It’s also a way to get children more involved with other family members like grandparents, great-grandparents and so on, because these relatives are a rich source of information.

Make a Time Capsule

Make a time capsule or time box. This is a really fun thing to do on a child’s birthday.

  1. Gather mementos of important events and achievements that happened during the year.
  2. Place these items in a time capsule and bury it.
  3. Decide when you will dig up the time capsule – maybe two years or four years in the future.
  4. When the time comes, dig it up.
  5. Compare the abilities of the child in the past with where he or she is now.

Seeing how much progress they have made in certain areas will increase their self-confidence and self-worth.

Return on Investment

Building self-esteem in children is one of the best investments any parent can make, and the returns on that investment are priceless. Give them a head start on life by treating them with love, affirmation and acceptance, and you’ll be rewarded by watching their self-confidence multiply and become stronger.

Martial Arts Girl Image courtesy of Marin /