Assisting Children in Developing a Healthy Self-Esteem

By FCPS School Psychology Services
Healthy Minds
February 28, 2022

Self-esteem and self-concept gradually develop over time, beginning at a very young age. As children grow and develop, they begin to examine their abilities, become more independent, and assimilate information and feedback from others. Self-esteem can be defined as the evaluation of self, and it includes feelings of overall happiness and satisfaction, as well as how important one feels. Children with high self-esteem have confidence to try new things, put forth their best effort, and persist in trying different strategies when the first way does not work. One can increase self-esteem by utilizing strategies that increase self-concept. Self-concept is often defined as one’s belief in his or her competencies in different areas, such as academics, sports, and social domains. For example, students who struggle in school may tend to develop a low self-concept. However, if you address the underlying learning difficulties and provide supports to boost their academic performance, their self-concept is also likely to improve. In order to build self-concept, which in turn, will lead to increased self-esteem, parents and teachers should assist in building children's’ competencies and self-perceptions.

Children need to feel competent, or believe that they are good in areas that they value or feel are important to themselves and others. Parents and teachers should recognize not only academic, behavioral, and athletic competencies, but also other ones that may be overlooked, such as artistic, musical, and technical abilities. Support from others is deemed important in children's development of a healthy self-esteem. Below are tips and strategies that parents and teachers can implement to build self-esteem and prevent a low self-concept:

  • Allow children to try and learn new things, assisting them in becoming independent. Help them learn from their mistakes.
  • Letting children know that you are proud of them as they learn and grow builds their self-esteem and competencies. 
  • Provide positive reinforcement and point out improvements over previous praise, providing encouragement, and recognizing children for their efforts and successes are often determining factors of positive self-perceptions. For example, tell children that you are proud of how hard they tried or worked on the assignment or how they played at their soccer game, even if they did not get an "A" or win the game.  
  • Minimize social comparisons and place children in settings where they will find the greatest success, when possible. Work on areas of deficit to improve those skills, as well as pointing out areas of competencies. Enroll children in extracurricular activities where they might discover other talents and strengths. 
  • Promote supportive relationships and connectedness by providing community building opportunities at home and in school, such as helping others and taking responsibility. Engaging in pro-social behaviors builds self-esteem.
  • Be a good role model by putting effort into tasks and demonstrating a good attitude. Remember children are quick to pick up what they hear and see. Speak appropriately to others and be positive about yourself, so children will have a good example to follow. In addition, talk about your own strengths and weaknesses, so children learn that all people have things they are good at and things that are harder for them. Each person has his or her own special talents, qualities, and attributes. Teach them that they can improve areas of weakness and make a plan (growth mindset rather than fixed mindset). Assist them in setting reasonable, reachable goals, so they can achieve success.
  • Look for children's strengths and point them out, as well as focusing on positive actions, behavior, and skills. Avoid criticizing and giving negative messages, as those will lower self-esteem. Instead of saying, “Your clothes are all over the floor again,” provide a specific goal for a child to work toward, such as “When you pick up and put away your laundry, then you may play your video game.” 
  • Use praise and phrases that will build self-esteem, such as "Thank you for helping me with the dishes," "Great job remembering to use transition words on that essay," "That was an excellent idea," "Nice work on reading that long passage and sticking with it," “What a good listener,” or “You are such a caring friend.”
  • Spend quality time with children. Show them that what they do is important to you. Read together, play a game, and talk with them about how their day went at school and what they learned. Attend their sporting events, activities, drama productions, Parent's Day at school, award ceremonies, etc.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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