How to Build your Child’s Self-Esteem

Confidence or self-esteem is how your child feels about themself and their abilities. These feelings develop as your child interacts with you and others. A child with a healthy self-esteem values themself as a person, trusts their feelings and abilities, believes they are capable, and is able to work toward their goals.

All parents want their children to have a healthy self-esteem, but it’s hard to know how to build it. Some parents erroneously believe that praising their child all the time or protecting them from failure or strong emotions will build their confidence, but research has disproven these ideas. Instead, experts say that teens develop self-esteem and confidence by overcoming challenges and experiencing success. So, first, we must give our teens the opportunity to be successful (which means that we cannot rescue our kids every time they face a difficulty), and then we must help them see how they contributed to their own success (identify the skills and hard work they used to accomplish the result).

With that in mind, following are tips for developing your child’s confidence level:

Praise… in the right way

When we praise our children for their effort or for the way they tackled a challenge, we are helping them to build confidence. When we praise our teens for every minor thing they do, or focus on things not under their control, we actually strip them of confidence. So, here are a few guidelines for praising:

  • Don’t focus on the result. Instead point out how impressed you are with HOW they accomplished the outcome.
  • Watch your wording. Saying “you are special to me” or “I enjoy your company” is a wonderful way to show deep acceptance and belonging to a child. Saying “you are special” or “everyone loves you” puts pressure on a child to live up to extraordinary expectations and implies that they are superior to other people.
  • Be specific. When we are specific, our praise sounds sincere and also helps teens understand what behaviors they should repeat. A generic “good job” gives them no feedback on what they should do in the future to get the same outcome and also communicates that you’re more impressed with the result than in how they achieved it.
  • Recall previous success. When you see your child struggling with something, remind them of past successes they have had. “I know you’re feeling frustrated with your English project now, but I remember last year you felt the same way about your Science project and you got an A. I feel confident that you can do this well.” This type of comment not only praises them for a past success, but also expresses belief in their abilities.
  • Be sparing. When children get overpraised, one of two things happen. Your teen might develop a need for attention and fish for compliments over everything they do. Or, your teen might start to doubt the truth of your praise and consider your statements meaningless. So, praise the special things, not every thing.

Experts say that the quality of our praise is way more important than the quantity. Make sure your praise is genuine, sincere, focused on their effort, and encourages positive behavior.

Setting and Obtaining Goals

Teens develop a healthy self-esteem when they learn to plan out and obtain goals. They can feel accomplishment not only when the goal is achieved, but also during the path to the goal. Setting and obtaining goals is not something your child will just know how to do, but rather must be taught:

  • Let teens know that goals must be realistic, which means that they have a reasonably good chance of accomplishing it if they put in time and effort. 
  • Remind teens to break down their goals into smaller steps so that they are not overwhelmed and know what steps to take along the way.
  • Help your child create a plan with a timeline to complete the tasks for his goal.
  • Remind him or her to be flexible as things change and obstacles come up or if it takes longer than expected.
  • Help them think of a reward for when they do accomplish their goal.

This process teaches teens how to be successful, and they feel more confident as they go through the process.

Mistakes Are Good

Allow your teen to fail and do not jump in to fix their problems for them. Making mistakes is part of every learning process. Raising a teen that can accept and overcome failure results in a young adult who is independent, responsible, confident, and ultimately successful. When your child makes a mistake, your response must be balanced. At first, you should validate your teen’s feelings and be the shoulder they can cry on. After they have some time to process their feelings, help them to view the experience realistically. Ask them what they can learn from the experience. Encourage them to consider what they would do differently next time and brainstorm what they can do next. You can role play different scenarios if it helps your teen find their answer – but allow them to find the answer that is right for them. Let them know you are confident in their ability to bounce back and to overcome this challenge.

Give Choices

Confidence helps teens make decisions, and making decisions helps build confidence!  Instead of moving forward with every aspect of family life, which is easiest for parents to do, make sure your are giving your teen lots of opportunities to make their own choices. Consider giving your teen a say when setting family rules and limits. Ask them to decide between 2-3 options for dinner that night. Allow them to have a say in where the family takes a vacation. If they face a choice that significantly impacts their time or resources, take the time to talk about it with them. Give them some pros and cons and then let them own the decision. By letting teens make decisions as often as possible, you will be building their confidence.


Expectations are the behavior you expect from your teenager. If your expectations are too high or too low, it will affect your teen’s self-esteem, so reassess your expectations often. Expectations and communication are closely tied, so clear messages of your expectations – even the simple ones – will avoid frustration and conflict. For example, if you ask your teenager to mow the lawn, you might expect he would do it right away. However, he might think it’s ok to mow the lawn sometime this week. Be clear, reasonable and fair.

Encourage Healthy Risks

Youth can be so afraid of failure that they only take the easy route. Your teen will learn a lot more by failing at something difficult than succeeding at something easy. So, encourage your teen to try new things or explore something that feels challenging and praise their efforts and courage regardless of the end result. Again, their confidence grows when they realize they can face challenges.

Model Behavior

You must be trustworthy and model the behavior you want to establish confidence in your child. Be there when your teen needs you. Provide a safe home environment and firm, but fair, discipline. Model a positive outlook by handling your own everyday decisions with confidence and a “can-do” attitude. Never use criticism or sarcastic remarks with your teen, since those cutting words tear down confidence quickly.

Spend Time

Spend time with your child doing something they like to do. Get involved in their interests and notice how they grow within the activity. Teens become more confident when they feel valued.

Encourage Reflection

Whenever your teen IS successful, ask them open-ended questions such as “How did you figure out how to do that?” When you ask your teen an open-ended question, you give them an opportunity to realize what they have accomplished on their own. We need to raise children who can feel satisfaction with their own selves, not because other people praised them.

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