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Growth and Development: Helping Your Child Build Self-Esteem

What is an Actionset?

Self-esteem is a person's core belief about himself or herself. A person's self-esteem is reflected in his or her actions, both in how as well as what he or she does. Although self-esteem varies from time to time, the pattern usually leans toward a healthy or unhealthy view of self. With healthy self-esteem, a person is more likely to succeed in life.

Although building self-esteem is a lifelong process, the foundation of self-esteem is established in childhood. That foundation can do much to help a child deal with difficult life issues as they are encountered.

Parents have the greatest influence on a child's belief about himself or herself. Letting your child know that he or she belongs, is doing well, and is contributing can help him or her develop healthy self-esteem.

Keep these things in mind as you raise your child.

  • Children sense that they belong by the way their parents talk to them and act toward them. Show and tell your child that you love and care for him or her.
  • Children learn about how well they are doing by how their parents react to their behavior. Offer praise at least twice as often as you criticize (and try for four times as often).
  • Children learn how to work with others by learning how to cooperate within a family. Give your child some age-appropriate household responsibilities.

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You can promote your child's development of healthy self-esteem by starting a cycle of belonging, learning, and contributing. A sense of belonging helps a child to participate in learning new things. Learning makes a child feel confident in making contributions. Making contributions helps secure a feeling of belonging. This cycle helps establish and strengthen a child's self-esteem.

Developing healthy self-esteem is a process that continues throughout life and helps a person act responsibly, cooperate well with others, and have the confidence to try new things.

Test Your Knowledge

Self-esteem involves how a person sees himself or herself.


Which of the following are involved in helping your child develop healthy self-esteem? (There may be more than one correct answer.)

Helping your child feel that he or she belongs within the family
Helping your child feel that he or she can learn and accomplish things
Helping your child feel that he or she can contribute in a worthwhile way

Self-esteem affects all aspects—personal, family, and social—of a person's life. Adults who have low self-esteem feel that they do not belong, that they cannot learn and accomplish things, and that they do not have anything to contribute. Low self-esteem limits a person's ability to do well in the world.

On the other hand, adults who have healthy self-esteem are well equipped to succeed in life. They have the confidence to try new things and learn new skills. They are responsible adults, are able to cooperate well with others, and are happy.

  • Helping your child feel that he or she has a place in your family will contribute to his or her ability to become a responsible adult.
  • Helping your child feel that he or she has the ability to learn will contribute to his or her confidence in developing new skills throughout life.
  • Helping your child feel that he or she can contribute to the family as a whole will make your child more likely to cooperate with other people and find ways to contribute to the well-being of his or her group or to society.

Test Your Knowledge

People who have low self-esteem do fine in life.


Adults who have healthy self-esteem have which of the following? (There may be more than one correct answer.)

They have confidence.
They are responsible.
They are cooperative.

Developing a sense of belonging, learning, and contributing can help your child develop healthy self-esteem. The following are ways you can help promote this development in your child. Use the brief belonging, learning, and contributing checklist as a daily reminder to let your child know he or she belongs, is learning, and is contributing.


Through contact with others, we know that we are loved and respected and that we belong. Use the following suggestions to help your child feel he or she belongs within your family.

  • Show your love. Let your child know you love him or her for who he or she is, not for what he or she does. Make it a habit to show your love for your child in at least two ways each day.
  • Let your child know that he or she is special. List at least three of your child's good qualities and post them on your refrigerator. Add to these qualities from time to time. Celebrate your child's good qualities often.
  • Praise your child. Make positive comments about your child's behavior at least twice as often as you make negative comments (and try for four times as often). Notice your child's strengths, even when he or she is misbehaving. When you focus on what you like, your child's behavior will improve.
  • Listen to your child. When your child shares something with you, give him or her your undivided attention and listen carefully. Don't give advice unless asked for it or you feel your child's safety is involved. Don't ridicule or shame your child.
  • Have family times. Have regular times for the family to have fun together, such as playing board or card games. Try to have as many family meals together as possible. Don't discuss problems or concerns during these times unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Encourage positive peer experiences. Look for activities with peers where your child can feel success and acceptance, such as participating in a sport or joining a club.


Although learning really takes place all the time, plan to create a learning opportunity for your child at least once a week.

  • Choose a learning activity. Choose an activity that is appropriate for your child's age and that builds on his or her strengths. Do not overstress the danger or difficulty involved in a task or activity. You might invite your child to help with one of your chores or hobbies. If you do, be sure that you are not feeling rushed during the activity. Let it be a fun time.
  • Let your child try. Even if your child has difficulty with a new task or skill, don't quickly take over and show him or her how to do it. Be patient and let your child try.
  • Break up a complex task. Simple steps help a child see progress when learning a complex skill. Don't embarrass your child by asking him or her to do difficult tasks in front of other people.
  • Praise accomplishments. Even if the completed work does not meet your standard, find at least one positive thing to say.
  • Encourage practice. When your child is learning a new skill that takes practice, such as riding a bicycle, don't expect perfection the first time. Encourage your child to practice and talk about his or her improvement with each practice time.


Contributing enhances our feelings of belonging, providing the basis for continued learning and strengthening of self-esteem. Every day, use the following suggestions to help your child feel that he or she is contributing.

  • Set family rules. Family rules help children know that the family stands for something and gives them exposure to order and ritual. Have as few family rules as possible and enforce them consistently. Write down your family's rules and the consequences if those rules are broken in a family rules formClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?).
  • Invite cooperation. Regular family meetings are a way to help children learn to cooperate. Family meetings are a place where family members discuss concerns and problems.
  • Expect accountability. You can help your child learn to be responsible by assigning him or her some household chores. Make sure the chores are appropriate for your child's age. As your child grows, hold your child accountable for his or her choices and behavior and let your child experience natural or logical consequences.
  • Express appreciation. Let your child know you appreciate his or her help with tasks, even household chores.

You may want to keep a journal when you are starting to use this method. Each day for at least 3 weeks, write in your journal specifically how you helped your child develop a sense of belonging, learning, and contributing. Keeping a journal for an extended period of time will help encourage positive behavior. After 3 weeks, review your notes to see your child's progress and to identify new ways to help your child.

Test Your Knowledge

You can help your child develop a sense of belonging by doing which of the following? (There may be more than one correct answer.)

Showing your love
Praising good behavior
Encouraging participation in youth groups

Although it is best to start when your child is a baby, it is never too late to help a person improve his or her self-esteem.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerLouis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last RevisedApril 6, 2012

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