Building Self Esteem in Your Child

Written by Dr. Sidney Langston 

There are many ways that a child develops his or her self-esteem. The building blocks of self-esteem are laid early in a child’s life, through the warmth, nurture and guidance of parents and other significant adults.

It is easy to recognize a child with confidence and a good self-image. he or she has a special glow, an ease and acceptance of her body and actions. In most cases, children with high self-esteem get along well with others and bring a sense of fullness and enjoyment to life.

A child with low self-esteem is also easy to recognize.  When asked to describe herself, she is apt to be unrealistic about both her weaknesses and her strengths. she may be loud or shy, a braggart or a recluse, but there are always signs that, inside, the child is hurt and suffering.

Steps to Building Self Esteem

This article will provide tested suggestions that will, if applied, help to improve a child’s self esteem. They address specific factors which we know can help children feel better about themselves.

  • Help your child identify feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness by reading stories in which others experienced some of the same feelings. Examine the steps these individuals took to overcome this problem in their lives. In addition, take a close look at the lives of some Bible characters when these kinds of feelings are especially addressed, i.e., lives of Joseph, Jacob and Esau, David and Goliath, Jeremiah, etc. Help your child learn from Scripture how these individuals dealt with the feelings of criticism, inadequacy and worthlessness.
  • Provide situations and structure in the home which the child can realistically master . . . this might be accomplished with a work/share chart. If chores take a long period of time to complete, break them down into manageable portions so that the child can experience measurable steps of progress toward having a finished product to show for their efforts. In doing this, you will enhance the child’s sense of importance and being needed—every child needs to know that she can make a meaningful contribution to family life and activities within the home. It will also give her an inner sense of fulfillment when she carries her share of the load. Another benefit is that you will be laying an early foundation for the child to learn how to become self disciplined, thereby establishing teaching them how to set realistic boundaries/limits for themselves.
  • When children try to test parental limits by “forgetting” or refusing to comply with requests, kindly, lovingly and in a calm, matter-of-fact manner let them know what the logical consequences of their choices will be. Once there has been an infraction, follow through promptly with the indicated discipline. Be consistent. By God’s design a child’s sense of worth is enhanced by structure and parental guidance.
  • Offer your child praise and compliments when you can legitimately do so. Every destructive criticism is a blow to a child’s self esteem and every compliment helps to build an inner sense of confidence and acceptance. It is believed by most professional therapists that it takes about one hundred compliments to make up for one criticism.  Children are sensitive and easily discouraged. Because of this, they need a lot of love, support, encouragement and compliments.
  • Compliments, love, praise, support and encouragement can also be offered to a child nonverbally. This can be done through touch, body language and with eye contact. Remember: research has indicated that we all need about 10 hugs a day.
  • Support your child’s desire and need for peer contact – make opportunities, whenever feasible, so that this can take place in your home as well as at school and at other social events. Allow your child to have a friend over for dinner or for some evening other than a school night. Invite your child’s friend to spend the night and go to church with you on Sunday. This will help your child to develop confident and competent social skills with which he\she can feel comfortable.
  • Talk with your child (when it seems indicated) about specific incidences and experiences that have created feelings of sadness and despair. Often a child feels much better after this type of open interchange with a parent. This helps them to feel heard and to feel that others do care and desire to help lighten their load. We don’t have to have all the answers, nor do children expect us to. The most important factor is that we be good listeners.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to discuss inner thoughts, feelings of loneliness, body sensations, and reflections about significant others. This will open up good strong channels of communication and will say to the child, “Your thoughts, feelings and opinions are important and worthy of being heard.”
  • If your child awakens from a bad dream, discuss this with them and help them identify the people in the dream, their significance to the child, and the content of the dream in specific terms. Ask if this dream has occurred before, and elicit the child’s awakening reactions to the dream, i.e., did they feel frightened, or did they experience joy or pleasure, or was it just like real life? Determine if the child would rather dream than be awake; dreams may give insight into the child’s undisclosed concerns and/or feelings. If the child is having recurring nightmares, you may best help by praying with the child before going to bed. Ask that God protect their sleep and claim such Scriptural verses as Prov. 3:24.
  • Provide the child with a few activities in which only she can make a decision. This assists the child to gain a feeling of self identity and independence, which leads eventually to healthy autonomy. This also promotes a sense of self confidence and strength. In the process of doing this, if the child is old enough, you may want to teach him how to problem-solve.
  • Make time for the child to participate in active recreation at home, school, church and in the neighborhood. This says to the child, “I care enough about you to provide for your fun and need of exercise.” Do be careful that these activities are of interest to the child and that they are age and developmentally appropriate. If you are not careful in doing this, you could set your child up for undue emotional pain and suffering.
  • Try to remember that all children need limits set, but do try to avoid unnecessary regulations. Imposing too many restrictions can cause children to become discouraged or to feel they can never keep all the rules, so they give up and go to the other extreme, rebelling against all parental guidelines. To avoid either extreme, limit regulations to only those that are essential. This gives needed security, but avoids feelings of failure and a need to rebel.
  • If at all possible, allow your child to take part in the limit-setting process. A child will feel better about respecting these limits and about herself if given this opportunity.
  • When a child misbehaves, focus on the misdeed not on the child’s sense of worth. Reject the misdeed/behavior that wasn’t appropriate, but never reject the child.
  • When indicated, be willing to communicate your feelings and experiences to your child. This indicates that you respect the child’s right to an honest answer or to honest information. This enhances her sense of inner calm and relatedness. Children have a  hard time feeling they belong when they aren’t considered deserving of a good explanation or insight into what their parents are going through.
  • Never attempt to motivate a child by shaming or making him feel fearful and guilty, i.e., “Johnny, don’t you feel ashamed of yourself?” Or, “Johnny, if you don’t watch out God will punish you.” We do need to help our children to see and repent of their sins. But we must never communicate that a lack of righteousness means they are worthless to God or to us. We need to communicate loudly and strongly that God loves them and so do we.
  • During family time, study and teach Scriptures pertaining to God’s view of us, i.e., we are designed and created in His image. Teach your children that they are unique and that God cares so much for them that He knew them before they were born. Let them know that God sees their every tear and has promised to wipe them all away. Tell them that God loved them so much that He sent Jesus to die on Calvary so that we can have a personal relationship with Him. Help them to see that God has given them special abilities, talents, etc., and has a perfect plan for their lives.Assist children to validate their uniqueness by encouraging them to refuse to compare themselves with others. You might want to consider having the child take the children’s Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Murphy Meisgeier Test). Take them to II Cor. 10:12 and share that passage.


Copyright 1982, Sidney Langston ©