How to foster your child’s self-esteem
Self-esteem is how people feel about themselves, both inside and out. People with good self-esteem generally have a positive outlook, accept themselves and feel confident.
Having good self-esteem doesn’t mean a person is arrogant or self-centered. It means appreciating your own self-worth and importance, taking responsibility for your actions, and showing respect and care for others.
Most of the time, children with positive self-esteem:
- are happy,
- make friends easily,
- enjoy social activities,
- are enthusiastic about new activities,
- can play on their own and with other children,
- like to be creative and have their own ideas, and
- talk comfortably with others without much encouragement.
Children with low self-esteem may:
- have few friends,
- be easily frustrated or discouraged,
- be unwilling to try new things,
- have trouble following rules or behaving well,
- be withdrawn or depressed, or
- say “I can’t” a lot.
If your child doesn’t always want to be with others, it doesn’t mean she has low self-esteem. Spending time alone is a good skill and important to mental health. However, if you child always wants to be alone, you should discuss with your doctor.
Why is self-esteem important?
Your child’s self-esteem affects how well he does day-to-day. It affects his relationships with you and with others and has an impact on how he does at school and in social situations. Later in life, it will affect how he does in the workplace.
Positive self-esteem helps children:
- have the courage to be their own person,
- believe in their own values,
- make the right decisions under pressure,
- interact with others,
- handle stress and life’s challenges,
- make healthier choices, and
- feel confident saying “no” to dangerous activities.
How does self-esteem develop?
Positive self-esteem starts with your child’s healthy attachment to you. It begins as early as birth, and continues as your child grows and develops.
Children need to feel loved and accepted to build self-esteem. When you take good care of your baby, it helps her feel loved and valued. When you play with your child and help her learn, she becomes more self-confident and willing to try new things. When your child goes to school and does well on a test, or while playing a sport, your praise and encouragement will help her feel proud of what she’s done.
As your child gets older, providing rules and structure will help her feel confident that she is cared for. Gradually give her opportunities to make choices for herself and feel more independent.
What can I do to help foster my child’s self-esteem?
- The most important thing is to show your child lots of love and acceptance. Show him that you love him by spending time with him and by giving him a lot of hugs and affection.
- Focus on your child by playing with her and listening when she talks. Show interest in your child’s activities, projects, or problems. Let her guide play, and be willing to do the things she wants to do.
- Provide structure and rules. Be consistent. Decide on and enforce clear rules and limits that are right for your child’s age and stage. Tell him what you expect, and what the consequences will be if the rules aren’t followed. This helps him feel safe and secure, and gradually grow more confident about making his own decisions.
- Tell your child you are happy when she cooperates or helps you, follows rules, or does other positive things. Explain what you like about her behaviour.
- Help your child find something he is good at and enjoys. Understand and respect that he will be really good at some activities and not good at others. Never humiliate or put down your child for not succeeding.
- Support your child and offer genuine praise. Encourage her to try new things, and tell her you are proud of her. Praise efforts and skills, but be specific in what you say. Don’t over-praise every accomplishment, because it will only take away from the things she succeeds at and that took real effort. Remind her that learning new skills takes time and practice, and that no one can master everything. You can also talk about your own successes and failures and what you’ve learned.
- Help your child learn from his mistakes. Talk about what can be done differently next time, and how he can control his own behaviour.
- Provide your child with responsibilities and opportunities to contribute in the home. For example, assign family chores, or ask for help preparing dinner. This teaches your child that she’s important.
- Be a role model. Show your child what it means to love yourself, be willing to do and try new things, and model how you cope with set-backs or challenges. Show your child the rewards of patience, persistence and doing things as well as you can.
- Offer choices and the chance to problem-solve, appropriate to your child’s age and stage, so that your child learns that he has control over his life.
- Create a safe, loving home environment where your child can feel comfortable, secure and happy. Avoid fighting or arguing with your partner in front of your child.
When should I call a doctor?
It’s normal for children to show one or more symptoms of low self-esteem every once in a while. Call your doctor if your child’s behaviour doesn’t get better, or if it gets worse over time.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last Updated: January 2018