Fostering Self Esteem in Kids


Self Esteem is Earned

Like growth, self esteem always involves stretching and is earned. It is therefore one of the hardest things to “give” or teach our kids, since we can’t do it for them at all. Fostering self esteem in kids starts with talking about it openly and looking for ways to reinforce adaptive behavior.

Self esteem is the sweet reward that comes on the other side of an accomplishment that involves taking risk and trying really hard even if you might fail. None of us really feels great about an accomplishment unless we have tried really hard, and esteem for ourselves is thus earned.

Encourage Kids to Stretch

The best thing we can do for our kids is to help identify what they want, and then encourage them stretch for it. Only if we stretch can we feel the reward of self esteem. If we succeed without stretching, we can feel happy, but we will not build our self-esteem.

Self Esteem is Like a Bank Account

Think of self esteem like a bank account of earned successes that grows over time and produces confidence as a dividend. Talk about this with them and encourage them to look for and identify opportunities for growth that they can “bank” for later needed confidence. Talk about how good it feels to stretch for success and win.

Praise Courageous Effort

When your teen has a success, make sure to tell him how proud you are of how hard he worked, and the risks he took to put in his all. Make sure to “make deposits” along the way by noting how hard they are trying, and encouraging them along the way.

Likewise if your teen isn’t taking enough risks, talk to her about her fears and if she is amenable, encourage her. Girls are more prone to avoiding risk due to their brain anatomy, and often need more encouragement and social support for risk-taking than boys. At home, pick a saying that resonates, like “do something scary every day” to remind her how important, and easy, it is to stretch.



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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD