Herald Journal Columns
March 28, 2005, Herald Journal

Building self esteem in children


The other night, my husband was helping my five-year-old get ready for bed, and she asked where I was, then proclaimed, “When I look at Mommy, sometimes it makes my heart glow.”

After she fell asleep, I came from doing some work in our basement, and my husband shared her sweet words with me. The loads of laundry, dirty diapers, dishes, and spilled milk all seemed very trivial, and my heart “glowed” from those precious words.

Isn’t that what we want our children to know and feel, that they are loved and accepted? It made me feel good to know that my children know and feel that they are loved.

We all need to know that we are loved and cared for, and it’s our job as parents and caregivers that we instill a sense of self-worth, confidence, and esteem in our children.

The foundations of self-esteem are laid early in life when infants develop attachments with the adults who are responsible for them, the website www.kidsource.com said. When adults readily respond to their cries and smiles, babies learn to feel loved and valued.

Children come to feel loved and accepted when they are loved and accepted by people they look up to. As young children learn to trust their parents and others who care for them to satisfy their basic needs, they gradually feel wanted, valued, and loved.

In his book, “Family First,” Dr. Phil states that self-esteem is achieved through accurate, positive, and healthy internal dialogue – what we tell ourselves – and that true self-esteem comes from the inside out, versus trying to meet internal needs from the outside, such as through trophies, grades, etc. That truly makes sense. True self-esteem means that you love and believe in yourself because you accept and appreciate that you are a unique, quality, and authentic person.

Yanick Rice Lamb noted in Parenting magazine, April 2005, that how our children accept what sets them apart can play a major role in shaping the way they feel about themselves. Learning to appreciate freckles or ears that poke out in our image-stricken society requires a careful mix of self-esteem boosting, praise, and encouragement, Lamb said.

We, including our children, all have differences and likenesses, and that’s what makes us special. Highlighting, rather than hiding those differences, Lamb said, sends a strong message that what makes us stand out is something to be celebrated, rather than to be ashamed about.

Furthermore, children need to have an internal dialogue that tells them that they are okay, loved, appreciated, and special, Dr. Phil said. Positive self-talk creates children who live up to their own expectations versus someone else’s, and having high self-esteem and self-confidence will ensure that those self-expectations are high, yet realistic, because we all want our children to reach their own potential.

Helping children develop self-esteem is also helping them acknowledge their self-worth, a feeling that they are important. If children don’t have feelings of self-worth, they are less resilient in facing adversity and have trouble solving problems out in the world, Dr. Phil said.

Helping children develop self-worth means that we must help children identify and maximize all their distinct gifts and abilities.

Praising and encouraging our children’s efforts is important, but there is also warning in engaging in false, overblown, insincere, or excessive praise that is independent of actual achievement. There’s a delicate balance.

Realistic encouragement is important, though. Encouragement means valuing and accepting children as they are – everyone can do something well. Rather than focusing on the end result, achievement, or perfection, point out the effort that your child put into the task at hand.

Showing faith in their ability and appreciation for their help is important. By focusing on our children’s assets and strengths, we can help build their self-confidence and self-esteem. Pointing out positive aspects of our children’s efforts and encouraging children to accept and learn from their mistakes is also important, because we all make mistakes.

The aforementioned website further noted that children do not acquire self-esteem at once, nor do they always feel good about themselves in every situation. As children interact with their peers or learn to function in school or some other place, they may feel accepted one moment and feel different the next. We can help in these instances by reassuring our children that we support and accept them all of the time. Home should always be a safety net for our children.

The website also offers the following points that may be helpful in strengthening and supporting a healthy sense of self-esteem in our children:

• A child’s sense of self-worth is more likely to deepen when adults respond to a child’s interests and efforts with appreciation rather than just praise. If a child shows an interest in something you are doing, you may want to include the child in the activity, or if a child shows a strong interest in a bug in the garden, you might want to help the child find more information about it. In doing this, you are responding positively to your child’s interests by acknowledging the interest and treating it seriously.

• Children can benefit from tasks and activities that offer a real challenge, such as involving children in chores around the house; for example, caring for pets or helping in the preparation of meals. These helpful chores can give children a sense of accomplishment.

• Self-esteem is most likely to be fostered when children are esteemed by the adults who are important to them. To esteem children means to treat them respectfully, ask their views and opinions, take their views and opinions seriously, and give them meaningful and realistic feedback.

Enclosing a child in love, with lots of hugs and kisses and just the right amount of praise and encouragement, can go a long way in helping our children to be happy and teaching them that they each are unique individuals with special gifts to offer.

Springtime activity

Children love to play with sidewalk chalk, and it’s even more fun when they make it themselves, so here’s a recipe for homemade sidewalk chalk:

You will need one-third cup quick-setting Plaster of Paris, one tablespoon powdered tempera paint, three tablespoons water, and plastic cookie cutters, candy molds, toilet paper roll, or other containers, such as an ice cube tray, plastic egg, plastic or paper cup.

Mix plaster, powdered tempera paint, and water together in a bowl until well blended. Quickly spoon the mixture into the chosen container(s) – if using a toilet paper roll, seal one end with duct tape.

Let the chalk dry 30-45 minutes. Carefully pop the chalk out of the mold/container; or if using the toilet paper roll, peel the tube away from the stick of chalk. Then, enjoy decorating your sidewalk and driveway.


“Respect the child . . . trespass not on his solitude.”

– Emerson