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How to Raise the Self Esteem of Your Child

Your daughter paints a picture for you. “How beautiful. You’re a wonderful artist” you say, with some exaggeration.

Your son brings home his school report. “Congratulations. Great result. You are such a smart boy”, says your partner with genuine admiration.

But are your loving efforts to bolster your child’s self-esteem going to achieve the result you want? 

Psychologists and parenting experts differ on the significance and meaning of self-esteem. But there is more agreement on the importance of your child having confidence, an optimistic outlook and respect for themselves. Also crucial is a belief in their own competence including their willingness to make mistakes, take some risks and overcome failure. 

Build on Strengths

Parents should help kids to identify and build on their strengths and assets – whatever they are. Psychologist and counselor Michael Grose believes in starting from where your child feels competent and building from there. He says there is a snowballing effect because doing well in one area of your life can help you in other areas.

Importantly the encouragement you give your children needs to be sincere and specific.

Emphasise Effort

Psychologist Carol Dweck studied the effect of praise on students in (New York) schools for over a decade. One of her most important findings was that children praised for intelligence were less likely to take on challenging tasks than those praised for effort.

“Emphasising effort gives a child a variable they can control,” says Dweck. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

Grose also prefers encouragement of effort. He believes parents should use praise that focuses on the process – how your child got there. Encouragement “emphasises the doing more than the achievement” and allows your child to notice the strategies they are using. Parents emphasising their child’s effort are then helping to develop their children’s healthy self-esteem.

When you Use Praise – Be Sincere

Another psychologist, Wulf-Uwe Meyer, also conducted studies on children receiving praise. His finding was that by the age of 12, many children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign of doing well but a sign that they lack ability. Teens thought that a teacher’s criticism, not praise, showed a belief in their potential. The message for parents here is not to abandon praise or encouragement entirely, but you should be aware that your child may detect if your praise is insincere. As they mature, if you lavish them with meritless praise they may disregard it.

Give your Children Responsibilities

Grose says that if you want your child to be resourceful you must put them in a position to develop resources, skills and responsibility. Invite them to make meaningful contributions and have responsibility both within your family life and outside it – this in turn can contribute to your child’s feelings of self-esteem.

Author Robert Ramsey includes these kinds of tasks in a list of strategies to boost your child’s self-esteem. Some of his suggestions (taking into account age appropriateness) are:

  • Let your child teach you something.
  • Let your child take care of you (sometimes).
  • Give your child something important to do and let her do it in her own way.
  • Let your child cook for the family.
  • Let your child help plan the family vacation.
  • Let your child manage some of his own money.
  • Ask your child for help (sometimes).
  • Don’t completely shield your child from family problems.

Teach your Child to Meet Challenges

Grose talks about how you might support your child when your child faces a specific challenge and by doing this, help their self esteem. 

1. Call the difficulty or problem “a challenge”.

2. Help children develop skills to meet the challenge – help them work out what the difficulties might be and depending on what is appropriate to their age, rehearse the skills – even using role play.

3. Show confidence in your child’s ability to do something – have a positive expectation.

4. Let children deal with problems in their own way. Having equipped them, stand back and allow them to overcome difficulties themselves. 

5. After the challenge or event – talk about it. Acknowledge successes or partial successes and discuss problems. See if you can extract what steps your child took to deal with the situation so they have insight into their own efforts.