How to build positive self-esteem

By sheilam |



In my work roles I have often worked with children and young people who struggle with self-esteem.

This can happen for all sorts of reasons and is always a concern for the adults who are around them, whether that be parents, or other relatives, carers or staff in schools.

Of course it is easiest to ensure that children develop this right for the start but that isn’t always the case and I am not pretending that it easy to develop a positive self-esteem when a child or young person has a negative view of themselves BUT it is still important to do all we can to help children and young people develop a positive view of themselves. Having a positive self-esteem enables a person to

  • Be confident
  • Build relationships
  • Be prepared to try
  • Stand up for themselves
  • Cope with failure or disappointment
  • Feel happier

Developing a healthy self-esteem starts right from day one though the process of attachment. To develop well children need to have all their basic needs met, (food warmth safety etc) and they need to feel that they ‘belong’ that someone loves them and will care for them. When a baby cries, because they are hungry for example, and then someone picks them up and feeds them, hopefully in a repeated way, so that most times they are hungry they are fed, they are learning that the world is an okay place, that their needs will be met and that is the foundation of self-esteem, they are cared for, they are loved and someone has their back. If you’d like to read more about attachment click here.

I work often with children and young people who have been taken into care, because of abuse or neglect within the home and understandably they can often struggle with self-esteem – but lots of other children and young people can face problems with self-esteem as well.

Being bullied, feeling stressed, constantly comparing yourself, (or others comparing you) to others, feeling that you don’t measure up to people’s expectations can all impact self- esteem.  A massive 60% of people using social media reported that it had a negative impact on self esteem – you can read more here.

Behind every young child who believs in hmself is an parent who believed firfirst

The NSPCC reported that

“In 2014-15 there were 35,244 counselling sessions for low self-esteem, an increase of 9% from the previous year.”

The charity Young minds reports that 75% of young people have felt low self-esteem at some point.

What can be done to help?

As adults the guidelines below can help us all to help children and young people develop and maintain a positive self-esteem.

Ensure they feel valued

Tell children and young people that you care and that you value them. Make time for them that is a great way to demonstrate that you enjoy their company. Make sure that what you say as an adult to them will not cause them problems, our negativity about them can play like a record in their head.

The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice

Recognise strengths and weaknesses

Telling a child that they are great at everything won’t help develop a strong self-esteem because of course all humans have areas of strength and weakness. So recognise the strengths but also recognise and tell them explicitly that any areas of weakness, things they can’t do or find difficult can get better with practice and effort – that is the ‘growth’ mind-set.

Challenge lies

When children or young people say things about themselves that aren’t true it is important to challenge this with the truth – so if they say for example

“I’ll never be able to do this”  – reply that they can’t do it YET but with more practice they probably will be able to

“I always get things wrong” – tell them that making mistakes is part of learning

“Nobody likes me” – reassure them that you do and in fact lots of people do (usually this comes about because of a problem with one or a small group of peers).

“Everybody says I’m ……..” some people might say that but I think…..

Basically all these phrases above contact absolutes, always, never, nobody, everybody and are quite simply not true.

Acknowledge Feelings

Things happen which can make us sad – and that may not be pleasant but feelings are always valid and can’t be denied. BUt we can all make a choice about what we do with those feelings. Being ad has its place, there will be times when every child and adult may feel hurt or tearful, but there comes a time when we can choose to respond by picking ourselves up and moving forward

Be a role model

Think about your own self-esteem, we will all as adults have had times when our self-esteem has taken a battering, but we recovered from this and moved forward usually by concentrating on the positive and feeling supported by others. Talk about such times but more importantly let them see you respond to challenges by NOT being defeated.

Be appropriate with praise

When a child achieves something it is important to praise them but be careful not to just praise everything or the praise becomes meaningless.

Encourage them to see the positive side

When faced with difficulty we can all have times when we need support. But we also can make a choice about what we decide to focus upon.

Encourage Independence

Whatever age they are encourage them to be as independent as they can, that might be learning to feed themselves even though it creates a mess, or tie their own shoelaces even though it takes longer. Independence helps a child feel capable which helps promote a positive sense of self.

Let them make mistakes and take (calculated) risks

Living involves risk and making mistakes. Think about a chid learning to walk, they fall over – not once or twice but multiple times. BUT eventually they learn to walk. If we waited till they could walk without falling over they simply would never learn. So whatever stage they are at allow them the freedom to take a risk and make a mistake and be there to give them support and help, if the ‘fall’.

There will always be some children and young people who because of their personality or who they are as individuals, that will struggle more than others with self-esteem, a children with a physical limitation or learning need may be examples but we can as adults use the strategies above to help promote  positive self-esteem in all the children and young people we came into contact with.

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