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9 Ways to Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Medically reviewed by: Amanda S. Lochrie, PhD

As a parent, you want your kids to feel happy about themselves and have good self-esteem (also called a self-image). Your words and actions affect it more than anything else, starting from when they’re babies. Your child absorbs your tone of voice, body language, and every expression. 

Self-esteem can come easier to some kids than others. If your child's self-esteem is low, here are 9 ways you can help boost it:

1. Help your child learn to do things. For a baby, learning to hold a cup or take first steps sparks a sense of understanding and delight. As a child grows, things like learning to dress, read, or ride a bike are chances for self-esteem to grow.

Teach by showing and helping at first. Then let kids do what they can, even if they make mistakes. This is a key part of developing positive self-esteem. Be sure your kids get a chance to learn, try, and feel proud. Don't make new challenges too easy or too hard. Encourage them to always do their best but explain that they don’t have to be perfect. No one is!

2. Praise efforts. Avoid praising only results (like getting an A) or qualities (like being smart or athletic). Instead, congratulate kids on effort, progress, and attitude. For example: "You're working hard on that project," "You're getting better at these spelling tests," or, "I'm proud of you for practicing piano — you've really stuck with it." With this kind of praise, kids put effort into things, work toward goals, and try. This makes them more likely to succeed.

3. Be honest. Praise that doesn't feel earned doesn't ring true. For example, telling kids they played a great game when they know they didn't can feel hollow and fake. Instead you can say, "Even though that wasn’t your best game, I'm proud of you for not giving up." Add a vote of confidence: "Tomorrow, you'll do well."

4. Be a good role model. When you put effort into everyday tasks (like making a meal or washing the dishes), you set a good example. Your child learns to put effort into doing homework, cleaning up toys, or making the bed.

Modeling the right attitude counts too. When you do tasks without grumbling or complaining, you teach your child to do the same. When you avoid rushing through chores and take pride in a job well done, your child also learns to do that.

5. Avoid being critical. The messages kids hear about themselves from others often affect how they feel about themselves. Harsh words or negative statements (like calling a child lazy) don't motivate kids and can hurt their self-esteem. Correct kids with patience. Focus on what you want them to do next time. When needed, show them how.

6. Focus on strengths. Pay attention to what your kids do well and enjoy. Make sure they have chances to develop these things. Focus more on strengths than weaknesses to help them feel good about themselves. This improves behavior too.

7. Notice what goes well. It can be easy for kids to focus on what went wrong, like not doing well on a test. Unless they balance it with the good, they'll just feel bad. When you hear your kids complain about themselves or their day, have them find something that went well instead.

And try this: Each night before bed, have your child say at least 3 good things that happened that day. Soon kids will start to notice more positive things about the people in their life and themselves.

8. Encourage healthy friendships. Teach kids that the best friends are those who treat them well, and lift them up by what they say and do. Kids should avoid people who act in ways that tear others down. Instead, they should choose friends they can be themselves with and who help them feel OK about who they are. Help them be that type of friend for others.

9. Let kids help and give. Self-esteem grows when kids see that what they do matters to others. Kids can help at home, do a service project at school, or do a favor for a sibling. Helping other people and doing kind acts builds self-esteem and other good feelings.

By helping boost your child’s self-esteem, they’ll have the courage to try new things and make smart choices.

Medically reviewed by: Amanda S. Lochrie, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2023