Basic Principles For Fostering Self-Esteem

The most important thing you can give your child is a sense of self-confidence. The foundation of self-confidence is self-esteem.  Building self-esteem is a process and usually a slow one.  Below are several tips for helping your child see him or herself as capable and competent, lovable and loving, unique and valuable.

First, be available to your child and present yourself in a way that the child knows you choose to be present specifically to him/her for a certain period of time (e.g., special time). Children appreciate not only your availability, but also your full attention.  Spending “quality time” with your child helps build self-esteem because your total attention affirms his/her value. In sum, children’s self-esteem grows when they know you care enough to be with them.

Second, listening without making judgments heals broken self-esteem. Healthy relationships develop between children and adults who listen. When a child makes an entrance by stomping or other negative behaviors, he/she is trying to get your attention and sympathy. This is a good time to gently invite the child to share his/her feelings with you, even if the way he/she went about it the first time was negative.

Third, children’s self-esteem grows when they know you value them enough to share some part of yourself with them.  For example, if a child gets nervous about a test or something, saying “I know how you feel” followed by a personal example will help them feel validated.  This approach also helps them see that they are not the only ones feeling this way.

Fourth, encourage children to participate in interpersonal or peer group activities. Ideally, help your child find an activity that he/she is good at and can feel a sense of competency.  This does not necessarily mean that the child will be involved in sports or athletics.  Some children are skilled at art or music.  Finding after school programs or clubs that can foster these special talents contributes to positive self-esteem in children.

In sum, children’s self-esteem grows when they receive unconditional love and attention by their caregivers, know others share their focus of interest, feel part of a social network and are involved in activities they enjoy, and when they receive positive praise for accomplishments.

Maria Kanakos, Psy.D
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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