A Few Tips for Healthy Childhood Self-Esteem

By Amy Grauberger, M.A.

We all want children to have high self-esteem, even those of us who don’t have children of our own. The success of the next generation is important to all of us.  Healthy self-esteem or self-worth allows people to successfully deal with the challenges and hardships life offers. It’s important our children have a strong foundation within themselves in order to meet and overcome such challenging situations.

In my experience, observations and research, I have learned several steps adults can take to support and grow childhood self-esteem:  1) appropriate expectations and consequences; 2) suitable praise; 3) the most important of all - modeling good self-esteem through self-talk and response to adversity.

Expectations and Consequences

When deciding expectations for children there are several factors to consider.  The appropriateness of the expectation for the child’s age, including physical and cognitive development is important.  If the consequence is too difficult, that could result in feelings of failure and worthlessness, especially if this occurs repeatedly. Predictable consequences are equally important. Having predictability allows children to feel safe and good about who they are. Being able to assume that at the end of a difficult day or situation the child will be able to go home and be safe in his/her environment to recover, he/she will be able to face the difficulty at hand. Understanding what is expected as well as what will happen if that expectation is not met brings a great deal of comfort and esteem.


Suitable Praise

You most likely do praise your child and that is extremely important. I want to offer a couple other perspectives on praise. Healthy self-esteem is being aware that one has innate worth; I have worth because I am alive. When we praise others, this translates into You have worth because YOU are you.

The approval of those we love is very important and I would like to suggest focusing on the innate worthiness. When I do something I have worked hard to complete, I feel proud. That’s healthy. I feel I deserve to be proud. I even feel I want to share it so other people can validate that pride and the idea that I have something to offer. So when our children have worked hard at something to completion instead of limiting praise to “I am so proud of you.” How about adding “You must be so proud?” That simple statement offers incredible validation that it’s cool to feel good about oneself.

The second type of praise is not result oriented, but rewards effort. If a child knows he/she has made the best effort possible yet didn’t reach the goal or desired outcome, he/she will still be able to recover, if not feel good about the outcome. The child’s worth is not dictated by only results, but also by efforts.

Positive Self-Talk

I often ask my clients, “Why is it ok for you to talk trash about yourself?” It’s not acceptable to speak in a mean way to others, but it’s ok for self-talk to be abusive. If we want the children in our lives to know how to speak nicely to themselves and perpetuate a positive self-image, we have to model showing ourselves grace. This means not yelling out “I am so stupid!” when things don’t go as planned. Saying nothing is better than an insult. To know what to say ask, “How do I want this child to talk to herself for the rest of her life?” The answer is that simple. It might seem corny at first, but that will change with practice. Another important part of this is admitting when we are wrong. Often low self-image comes from perfectionist thinking patterns. When I discuss this idea with clients, it’s always ok for others to be imperfect but my client has to be perfect all of the time. When adults are wrong or make a mistake, admitting to the wrong or mistake and making amends if necessary doesn’t show weakness, it shows humanness. Expertise doesn’t mean infallibility.

It’s important to show our children how to be compassionate and gracious as adults. It is rather simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy.


Some resources I liked:

Kids Health


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