A Parent’s Guide to Building Healthy Self-Esteem in a Child

Portrait of preschooler girl sitting near wall

In my view, self-esteem, the foundation for how we are in the world, is the most under-acknowledged component of mental health. One of our most important tasks as parents is to be sure the environment fosters in children perceptions of themselves as capable, effective human beings. Self-esteem is greatly impacted by how children feel about their ability to cope with life, a feeling that is largely developed by others. The way parents respond to their children communicates to them that they are loved, capable, and contributing people, which enhances their self-esteem. On the other hand, parents can unintentionally send negative messages to children that they are incapable and unloved, which contributes to low self-esteem.

A desirable self-esteem is likely being established if children perceive that they belong and that they are loved and respected within the family system. One way for parents to enhance that perception is to focus on their children’s strengths and accept their weaknesses. Children should be set up to be successful and learn how to embrace positive feedback from others, not discount it.

In order for children to understand how capable they really are, parents need to facilitate children reaching their full potential by demonstrating genuine interest and a desire to be productively involved with them. If an atmosphere of closeness and trust is created between children and their parents, children will grow increasingly interested in adult perceptions. All human beings, children in particular, have a basic need for potency, a sense of control over their environment, and an affirmation of their significance.

Children need to have opportunities to experience success. Success breeds success, which will result in building self-esteem. Parents can encourage children to work toward developing a level of self-understanding, which is a powerful influence on human behavior and is a crucial component in children reaching their full potential.

In order to ensure that their children are developing a desirable self-esteem, parents can do the following:

  • Set time aside to talk with your children and be fully present. Children need to feel they are being listened to.
  • Encourage children to take care of themselves through modeling a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet and getting enough exercise.
  • Provide the opportunity for children to become involved in activities they enjoy. Allow children to have a voice in the activities they engage in to encourage their individuality and to develop their own interests and passions.
  • Model a positive attitude toward yourself and others.
  • Help children set goals, and celebrate when they reach them. If reaching their goal takes longer than expected, keep encouraging them. If plans need to be renegotiated, let children know it is OK in order to enhance their self-confidence.
  • Encourage children to do their best and be proud of them for doing so. If they receive an A or a C in school, be proud of them for the effort they give.
  • Despite the circumstances, let children know they deserve to be loved and accepted.
  • Teach children that experiencing challenges and disappointments is a life skill and not a reflection of their worth or what they deserve.
  • Let children know you will never give up on them and ensure that they are held accountable. Their self-esteem will be enhanced by taking responsibility for themselves and their behavior.

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  • Ramon

    November 4th, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    I did not have this as a child growing up so for me it is hard to then give it to my own children. It can be so much easier to do these things when you have had that role model in your own parents but I am missing that so there are times when I have to say that I feel a little lost with knowing what I need to do to build my children up and show them just how good and precious that they are. I know that for many people this comes very naturally but I confess that it is something that I have to work on, again because I think that I did not have anyone to SHOW me how to do this by giving this to me.

  • Raquel

    May 31st, 2015 at 7:26 PM

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels this way. Thanks for your comment ramon

  • Ben

    February 1st, 2019 at 7:29 AM

    Ramon, I feel the same way, but you are perfect just the way you are. Just keep doing your best! Your abandoned self-esteem now comes from giving it to others!

  • Annie

    November 4th, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    I believe that you don’t naturally need a role model. You can create your own unique, new one.

  • Ramon

    November 4th, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    On some basic level I agree with you Annie but I also think that sometimes things can be a little easier or can come to you a little more easily if you had someone to show you some kindness along the way too.

  • polly

    November 5th, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    I have always felt that one of the best ways to actually build up a child’s self esteem is to allow them to see just how much they can accomplish on their own without you always standing behind them waiting for them to fall.

    Now I know that we all love our children and we have a hard time seeing them when they hutrt, but if we always step in to save them then how are they ever going to see that they are strong enough and smart enough t do this ting called life on their own?

    I think that teaching them that it is okay to fail as long as you are willing to dust yourself off and try again, that is the most valuable lesson that we can ever teach our kids.

  • Jay

    November 6th, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    I have some friends who are determined that their boys are gonna be tennis starts when I am pretty sure that their rough and tumble guys would much rather be out on the football field. How do you balance what you want for them as a parent with what they want to do and enjoy? And how does telling them no, you are gonna do this but not that, how does that then affect how they see themselves?

  • Jeanette

    November 7th, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    Children need to know that home is their soft place to fall.
    They have to know that this is the place where you can succeed or fail, and that your parents will love you just the same.

  • Wianda

    March 15th, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    yes, fully agree, all of the above tips mentioned in the article are hugely important as well as realising that the image you have of your child has a huge impact on how they see themselves – if you think they’re naughty or bad that’s how they’ll view themselves- if you see them as wonderful and kind that’s how they’ll view themselves- here’s a great article I just came across today which explains it really well shar.es/1fYlGb

  • Tess

    April 19th, 2015 at 12:35 AM

    Agreed brill read thank u for sharing

  • Kat E.

    November 13th, 2016 at 8:54 AM

    I am the eldest of 13 kids. My Mom was very supportive, Dad not so much until later years. He just called me “another mouth to feed”. I am sure he was overwhelmed ; he worked a lot. We can’t blame our parents for how we feel or react to what they say, but it is damaging to a kids self esteem for sure.

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