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- be withdrawn or depressed, or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 they have 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 they do day-to-day. It affects their relationship with you and with others, and has an impact on how they do at school and in social situations. Later in life, it will affect how they do 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 them feel loved and valued. When you play with your child and help them learn, they 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 them feel proud of what they've done.
As your child gets older, providing rules and structure will help them feel confident that they are cared for. Gradually give them opportunities to make choices for themselves 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. Spend time with them and give them lots of hugs and affection.
- Focus on your child by playing with them and listening when they talk. Show interest in your child’s activities, projects, or problems. Let them guide play, and be willing to do the things they want 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 developmental stage. Tell them what you expect, and what the consequences will be if the rules aren’t followed. This helps your child feel safe and secure. They will gradually grow more confident about making their own decisions.
- Tell your child you are happy when they cooperate or help you, follow rules, or do other positive things. Explain what you like about their behaviour.
- Help your child find something they are good at and enjoy. Understand and respect that they will be 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 them to try new things, and tell them you are proud. 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 they succeed at and that took real effort. Remind your child 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 their mistakes. Talk about what can be done differently next time, and how they can control their 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 they are 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 developmental stage, so that your child learns that they have control over their 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. Talk to your doctor if your child’s behaviour doesn’t get better, or if it gets worse over time.
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last updated: January 2018