Instilling Self-Esteem in Children

By Meredith Ross and Allison Hall

With just three seconds left on the clock, and down by two-points, Sean takes a final shot from just outside the three-point line. Right as the buzzer goes off, the ball bounces back and forth between the rim and the backboard, eventually falling just to the right of the basket. This shot could have won the area championship game for Sean’s club basketball team, but unfortunately he was not able to capitalize on this opportunity to clinch the win. Because of this, Sean spent the next six days sulking in his room, feeling like an epic failure, and no matter how hard his parents tried, they were unable to pull him out of his funk.

Sean’s reaction to his inability to win the game for his team reveals his lack of self-esteem, defined as “one’s overall evaluation of the self and the feelings engendered by that evaluation” (Crocker, 2001), which clearly plays a significant role in development of healthy children. Thus, during the critical years in which a child is working to form his or her own concept of self, it is crucial that each individual does so with a good dose of high self-esteem. Self-esteem is mainly based on heredity (that is, your genetic make-up), past interactions with others, and the environment. Because hereditary factors, such as physical attractiveness or athleticism, and a child’s environment, such as culture, ethnicity, school, or neighborhood, are not easily manipulated, the best way to strengthen a child’s self-esteem is through improving his or her interactions with other individuals, including both parents and peers. Although parents may not be capable of directly improving their child’s interactions with other children, they can definitely take responsibility for setting up situations that are conducive to positive development of this behavior. Because of the effects parents can have on their child’s view of his or her self worth, they should seriously consider taking on the burden of ensuring that their child develops high self-esteem.

Below are some easy to ways to ensure that your child’s self-esteem is at its peak during the key adolescent years:

v Encourage your child’s interests and talents—this allows your child to ascertain his or her individual skills, demonstrating that they are indeed successful and gifted persons capable of achieving success.

v Let your child “accidentally” overhear you saying something positive about him or her—this is the perfect opportunity to capitalize on the fact that your child believes everything you say. Opportunities for unsolicited praise will let your child realize how highly you think of him/her, while simultaneously revealing what you consider to be his/her greatest attributes.

v Help your child view failures as an opportunity to learn—after a failure, children often have the tendency to draw conclusions about their self worth (or lack thereof) from the situation. To prohibit this from happening, take the time to make the situation an opportunity to learn instead. To do this, focus on ways in which they can improve their efforts the next time a similar situation occurs. Be careful, however, to not cut your child too much slack; honest evaluation of both strengths and weaknesses are important.

v Have your child stand in front of a full-length mirror and pick out five things they like the most—whether these things be in relation to physical characteristics, personality traits, or personal style, this activity will allow your child to focus on the things they like most about him/herself. This, in turn, will reinforce the idea that your child is indeed a competent, deserving individual.

v Be a positive role model—imitation plays a huge role in learning for adolescents. Because of this, the higher self-esteem you have for yourself, the more likely your child is to have a high self-esteem as well. Try never to let your child hear you say anything negative about yourself and/or the way you were parented.

v Create a warm, affectionate, safe household environment— this allows your child to express his or her self in safe environments, but control emotions when it is inappropriate. By using both verbal and body language, parents can demonstrate to their children that they care about what they are feeling, and those feelings do matter.

v Give praise not only for a job well done, but for effort as well – but do not over-do it— acknowledge that your child is putting forth effort towards a goal, or trying something that had previously been difficult for him or her. Praise your child for accomplishing that goal while limiting excess positive feedback, which can lead to an inflated ego.

v Be spontaneously affectionate— your spontaneous expressions of love will promote growth of your child’s self esteem. Their self worth will no longer be grounded in success, but in themselves as a person.

v Address your child by name—because using a title or name to address others fosters communication development in the future, it is important to set the stage by addressing your child by his or her name. Supplemented by eye contact and touch, addressing your child by name sends a message that says, “you’re special.”

v Give your child responsibilities—by assigning tasks that your child can accomplish, he or she will develop self-confidence and internalize values. By assigning them a “special job,” children will deduce that they must be special, and in turn, gain self-value.

v Make sure they are getting lots of rest—this ensures that your child is getting proper opportunities to relax and unwind. As children get older, the demands of everyday life grow with them. By unwinding and resting, your child will be able to process the day’s events and feel accomplished, not overwhelmed, when they reflect.

To develop a healthy self-image and concept of self, it is essential to promote the positive attributes of your child and provide a safe, nurturing environment for exploration and building relationships. Beware, however, of your child gaining too much self-esteem. An overabundance of self-esteem may lead to egocentrism and an excess of narcissism in your child. Experts agree that a balance must be achieved between under acknowledgment and over praising. Encouraging your child’s attentions, choosing praise and words carefully, and not giving your child too much slack can achieve this.




Possible ideas for conclusions—to beware, as too much self-esteem is a bad thing






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