Articles of Interest

What Parents Can Do to Improve Self-Esteem in Their Children

By Candis Ubiles, LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Early in life, children and adolescents are faced with the primary task of developing a sense of hope, competency, and secure identity. These things, in turn, provide a strong platform for living healthy, successful lives as adults. You might consider this a process of “coming into one’s own.”

And it is exactly that – a process. It takes time and experience, and, if supported by parents with consistency, can provide children with a beautiful platform of not only being comfortable in their own skin, but dare I say, to excel in it.

According to professional Roger Crooks, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Parent Educator for the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s Advocates for Children and Education (ACE), there are many tangible ways to build self-esteem in children. One of his works included a comprehensive list of simple yet powerful tools to engage your children’s self-esteem in such a way that it will foster healthy identity and self-image long-term.

Here are just a handful of these tips that are worthy of consideration.

1. Not only tell them they are special, but tell them why.
A child may not believe it when you tell him/her that he/she is special…don’t all parents think their kids are special? Be specific. For example, “Ella, you are so tender and kind. I love that you comforted that little girl when she was upset.”

2. Let them make age-appropriate choices
It is hard to build self-esteem when someone does everything for you. Give your children choices. “Marcus, they are offering indoor soccer and basketball at the YMCA. You may pick either sport if you want to play.” The beauty here is that the child gets to be involved in the decision-making, which results in greater investment in the activity, and, in turn, strengthens self-esteem.

3. Give them age-appropriate tasks.
Chores and responsibilities are great ways to build self-esteem, teach independent living skills and even ease burdens around the home. When the child is of age, include him/her in tasks such as laundry, dishwashing, cleaning the car, or taking out the trash.

4. Teach them how to handle disappointments.
Everyone faces setbacks and disappointments in life. When your child allows the other team to score the game-winning run because of his error, don’t yell at the umpires because of a questionable call. Show your child how to face the disappointment with dignity and move forward.

5. Encourage their creativity (and let them help clean up).
Children can take the blob of play dough and mold fun for hours just as they can with paints, crayons, and legos. Encourage these activities, yet also teach them the importance of cleaning up after themselves which supports a sense of responsibility.

6. Be there at important events in their lives.
That 5-word part in the class play may seem small, but your presence and support will likely provide a springboard of confidence for them and be an act of love that they always remember.

7. Allow for frustration to take place and surface at times.
Think of teaching your child to tie their shoes. As long as you take over and save the day when the practice gets too frustrating, your child will never be able to master this task and secure a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that often follows.

8. Give physical affection often.
A big hug can go a long way. It’s one thing to tell your child you love him/her. It’s another to do so while holding him/her in your arms.

9. Ask for your child’s advice or opinions.
What a cool thing it is to have your parent accept your advice. You can ask for their opinion for simple things such as “Mary, which tie do you think looks best? I can’t decide.”

10. Give eye contact to your child when they speak to you; actively listen.
We should use the same communication skills we use with our spouse, friends, and coworkers when we speak to our children. This fosters and communicates a sense of mutual care and respect.

11. Quality time/special parent-child dates.
This is a particularly helpful tool to affirm your child’s importance in your family. Spend time with all family members together as well as parent/child dates. Some families incorporate the practice of “Game Nights” or “Fun Fridays.”

12. Give the child personal and private spaces.
Children need personal places and things they can call their own. Even if a child shares a bedroom with a sibling, they can still be allotted a personal drawer, bed bin, or small space they can go to when they need privacy.

13. Love your child for who he or she is.
They are your children. That makes them special in and of itself. Love them for who they are and remind them of this daily.

While this list is far from exhaustive, it does provide a strong toolkit of simple and effective parenting techniques to consider during the earlier years of parenting. Parents have such an important and precious opportunity to build up their children in many small yet powerful ways that can be profound and life-changing. Most importantly, though, is to believe what you say and support it through action. Your messages are the ones that will travel farthest in your child’s journey through life.