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Build a Child's Self Esteem

by Barbara Herel
The Challenge

Building a child's self-esteem helps a child to function successfully in life. On the other hand, a child who feels unwanted, unappreciated or unloved can suffer from depression, act out violently, abuse drugs and alcohol, develop an eating disorder, become pregnant, drop out of school, or even commit suicide, according to the National Association for Self-Esteem.

"What's wrong with you?" "You're not good at that." "Why did you do it that way?" Few people realize that such simple words can have a devastating, life-long effect on a child's self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is shaped early in life. Unfortunately, the well-meaning adults in a child's life may actually have the most negative impact: the parent with unrealistically high expectations who may unconsciously belittle a child's accomplishments, the teacher who doesn't give enough encouragement when it's needed, and the caregiver who doesn't show affection. Additionally, the classmate who bullies may also chip away at a child's healthy self-esteem.

Self worth can also be influenced by society with its many messages of "must haves" and unattainable standards. For instance, a low self-esteem child may start to feel ugly or fat when comparing himself or herself to a celebrity whose photo has been airbrushed to perfection.

Low self-esteem often perpetuates the vicious cycle of "self-fulfilling prophecies."

Perhaps a child believes he is not a good swimmer so he stays away from that activity and any event that might involve swimming. He decides that since he isn't good at it, why take the risk in the first place if the outcome will most likely be failure. Of course, by removing himself from the situation, there is no way he can improve, grow, and build self-esteem.

Self-esteem is what we believe to be true about ourselves. And it is these core self-beliefs that determine how well a child copes with life's triumphs and disappointments.

While you can't control all the events and influences in a child's life, you can play an important role in helping a child feel good about who he is and build better self-esteem.

Oprah credits her fourth-grade teacher as the person who made her believe in herself. Senator John McCain says it was his football coach who changed his life. You don't have to be related to a child to help them build their self-esteem!

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If you spend time with a child as a neighbor, family friend, babysitter, teacher, team coach, tutor, etc., you can make a positive impact on a child's life. Here are some tips to improving a child's self-esteem:

  • Listen. Give a child your undivided attention when he or she speaks to you.
  • Give praise and encouragement. Take genuine pride in a child's achievement big and small. When they succeed let them know how proud you are of them. When children fail, encourage them to try again. Talk with them about the choices they made and what they could do differently. Share your own triumphs and failures. Most importantly, let children know you appreciate their efforts no matter what the outcome is.
  • Make a child feel special. Together, write up a list of a child's accomplishments and the qualities that he or she like about themselves. Post it in a prominent place for all to see.
  • E-mentor a child. E-mentoring takes place over the Internet, allowing a mentor and a child to develop their relationship by communicating online. For instance, as an online Achievement Advocate, you can join parents and teachers in a team to support students in their efforts to set and meet goals for success.

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