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Ages & Stages

Building Blocks for Healthy Self Esteem in Kids

Self-esteem is the way we perceive ourselves. It plays a central role in a child's motivation and achievements in school, social relationships and their ability to bounce back from setbacks (resilience).

A child's self-esteem is shaped by their own thoughts and feelings about their ability to achieve in ways that are important to them. It is also shaped by the perceptions and expectations of significant people in their life. This includes how they are thought of and treated by parents, teachers and friends.

The closer a child's perceived self (how they see themselves) comes to their ideal self (how they would like to be), the higher their self-esteem.

12 traits your child needs to build for healthy self-esteem

Here are some of the building blocks that contribute to healthy self-esteem:

1. A sense of security

Your child must feel secure about themselves and their future. ("What will become of me?")

2. A sense of belonging

Your child needs to feel accepted and loved by others. This begins with their family and then extends to groups such as friends, schoolmates, sports teams, house of worship, and even a neighborhood or community. Without this acceptance or group identity, they may feel rejected, lonely and adrift.

3. A sense of purpose

Your child should have goals that give them purpose and direction. Goal can provide an avenue for channeling their energy toward achievement and self-expression. If they lack a sense of purpose, they may feel bored, aimless, or resent being pushed in certain directions by you or others.

4. A sense of personal competence and pride

Your child should feel confident in their ability to meet challenges in their life. A sense of personal power evolves when your child has successful experiences with:

  • solving problems independently, and
  • being creative and getting results for their efforts.

Set appropriate expectations, not too low and not too high, for your child. This helps them develop competence and confidence. If you overprotect them, they are too dependent on you; if expectations are so high they never succeed, they may feel powerless and incapable.

5. A sense of trust

Your child needs to feel trust in you and in themself. Toward this goal, you should keep promises, be supportive and give your child opportunities to be trustworthy. This means believing your child and treating them as an honest person.

6. A sense of responsibility

Give your child a chance to show what they are capable of doing. Allow them to take on tasks without being checked on all the time. This shows trust on your part, a sort of "letting go" with a sense of faith.

7. A sense of contribution

Your child needs to develop a sense of importance and commitment. Help them by providing opportunities to participate and contribute in a meaningful way to activities. Let them know that they really count.

8. A sense of making real choices & decisions

Your child will feel more in control of events when they are able to make or influence decisions that they consider important. These choices and decisions need to be appropriate for their age and abilities, and for your family's values.

9. A sense of self-discipline & self-control

As your child strives to gain more independence, they need and want to feel that they can make it on their own. Give them expectations, guidelines and opportunities to test themselves. This lets them reflect, reason, problem-solve. It also lets them consider the consequences of the actions they may choose. This kind of self-awareness is critical for their future growth.

10. A sense of encouragement, support & reward

Beyond achieving goals, your child also needs positive feedback and recognition. This send a message that they are doing well, pleasing others and "making it."

Encourage and praise your child not only for achieving a set goal, but also for their efforts. Be sure to recognize even small changes and improvement. ("I like the way you waited for your turn;" "Good try—you're working harder;" "Good job!") Give them feedback as soon as possible. This will reinforce their self-esteem and to help them connect your comments to the activity involved.

11. A sense of accepting mistakes & failure

Your child needs to feel comfortable, not defeated, when they make mistakes or fail. Explain that these setbacks are a normal part of living and learning, and that they can learn from them.

Offer supportive, constructive feedback and recognition of their effort. This can help overpower any sense of failure, guilt or shame they might be feeling, giving them renewed motivation and hope. Use examples from everyday life to model these skills; if you yourself make a mistake, share what happened with your child so they can see you move beyond it.

12. A sense of family self-esteem

Your child's self-esteem first develops within the family. So, it is influenced greatly by the feelings and perceptions that a family has of itself. Bear in mind that family pride is essential to self-esteem. It can be nourished in many ways. This includes participating in community activities, tracing a family's heritage and ancestors or caring for extended family members.

Families that fare better focus on each member's strengths. They avoid excessive criticism and stick up for each other outside the family setting. They believe in and trust each other, and respect their individual differences. And they show their affection for each other and make time for being together, whether to share holidays, special events or just to have fun.


For more tips on ways to support a healthy sense of self-esteem in your child, talk with your pediatrician.

More information

Last Updated
Adapted from Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 7th Edition (Copyright © 2019 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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