Building Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is so important. It’s generally defined as how you feel about yourself, and includes your feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. It’s also a main ingredient in other important traits like confidence, resilience, grit, and independence. Self-esteem is the foundation upon which everything else is built. It’s more important than money, status, or just about anything else—because everything that you do in life is impacted by how you feel about yourself.  

So, helping kids feel good about themselves is of paramount importance, and the messages we give our kids play a key role. Some parents worry that giving esteem building messages equates with overindulgence. To be clear, esteem-building messaging does not mean giving false praise or keeping our kids from failing. On the contrary, self-esteem is often strengthened by weathering adversity and personal challenge. It’s also not synonymous with permissive parenting, or parenting that constantly cheerleads kids and avoids authority or penalty. A good balance of empathy/encouragement and authority/limits is always the best parenting formula. That’s because esteem is built through feeling loved and understood, but also by being held accountable for one’s actions, and learning from one’s mistakes. 

Building self-esteem is essential for all kids, but especially for children who have developmental differences like ADHD, anxiety, ASD, and learning disabilities. This is because kids with these profiles often endure more corrective feedback from adults and more negative responses from peers than do kids without these challenges. So, it’s especially important to try to boost esteem for kids with unique developmental profiles. 

Here are some ways we can help our kids build self-esteem.

  • Give them honest praise. 
  • Discourage perfectionistic all-or-nothing thinking. Remind them that nobody’s perfect and that trying their best is good enough.
  • Encourage them to take on new challenges. 
  • Praise the effort, not the outcome. Replace “You won!” with, ”You played hard!” 
  • Tell them that you have confidence in their abilities. 
  • Let them try and if they fail, talk about what they learned and celebrate that. 
  • Encourage independence. Don’t do things for them that they can do themselves. 
  • Teach your kids to apologize and take responsibility for mistakes. 
  • Encourage positive self-talk: Help them say nice things to themselves, especially after mistakes. 
  • Encourage them to volunteer and help others. 
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself, and be nice to yourself when you make mistakes. They’re watching.

A self-esteem bank is a great way for kids to conceptualize esteem. Use the exercise below to talk with your child about how to fill up their esteem bank!

Self-Esteem Bank

Go over the following questions with your child to get them focused on building healthy self-esteem.

What is self-esteem? It’s feeling good about yourself and the things you do. 

Feeling good about yourself is even more valuable than money. And just like money, it’s important to save it up!

Ways to fill your self-esteem bank

  • Getting positive reactions from others for the things you do. Think of an example_________
  • Working toward your goals. Example________
  • Learning new things. Example________
  • Helping others. Example________
  • Making good choices. Example________
  • Fixing your mistakes (taking responsibility). Example________
  • Noticing your effort, even if you didn’t succeed. Example________
  • Seeing your progress, even if you didn’t finish. Example________
  • Thinking positive thoughts during challenges. Example________
  • Accepting challenges even if you’re scared. Example________

Can you think of other ways to fill your bank?

Ways your bank gets drained

  • Being mean to yourself when you make a mistake. Example________
  • Making poor choices, especially if you know better. Example________
  • Choosing not to help others. Example________
  • Giving up. Example________
  • Not trying your best. Example________
  • Not noticing your progress. Example________
  • Lying or cheating. Example________
  • Thinking negatively during challenges. Example________

Can you think of other things that drain your esteem bank? 

How full is your bank? (0-10 scale)

Name one way you will work on filling up your bank? 

Name one thing you will do to stop draining your bank?

You can do it!

Here’s a PDF of the Self-Esteem Bank handout you can print.