Improving Your Child’s Self-Esteem

It is common to hear that a child’s difficulties in school or at home are due to low self-esteem. What exactly is self-esteem? Why is it important? And what skills does a child need to develop positive self-esteem?

Self-esteem is an individual’s measure of personal worth and value. It involves a complex system of feelings, beliefs, expectations, and attitudes. Self-esteem affects how the individual interacts with others and influences how he or she copes with routine situations, unexpected circumstances and unforeseen problems.

Positive self-esteem enables a child to deal with new situations, take advantage of new opportunities, confront challenges and develop new skills with confidence and optimism. The child with healthy self-esteem can realistically evaluate and build upon his or her abilities while coping effectively with the mistakes and failures that are an inevitable part of growing up. In contrast, children who suffer from low self-esteem are apt to underestimate their abilities and their value as human beings. They withdraw from new activities and challenges because they anticipate failure or fear rebuke or embarrassment. Children with low self-esteem often do not feel competent to impact their world in a positive way and, instead, harbor a pessimistic attitude about the future. They often experience a high level of anxiety, difficulty in managing frustration and a propensity to misinterpret constructive feedback as criticism.

Frequently parents will contact us with concerns about their child’s self-esteem after hearing their child, often tearfully, state that “Nobody likes me,” or “I’m stupid.” Often parents attempt to help their child by refuting the irrational statement with comments such as “That’s not true… you’re not stupid,” or by offering solutions such as “Why don’t you try studying harder.” However, children with low self-esteem have difficulty altering negative self-perceptions and often refuse to accept their parent’s supportive comments and well meaning suggestions.

We begin working with children who possess low self-esteem by exploring their own negative comments and feelings. Understanding the child’s negative views is extremely important as they shape and influence the child’s basic attitude and approach to life. After the factors underlying the negative self-perceptions are clarified, we begin implementing therapeutic interventions designed to elevate self-esteem and enhance the child’s sense of self-worth and self-value. Typical interventions include teaching the child to confront unwarranted self-criticism and self-disparaging remarks, to use and accept praise for accomplishments, and to develop effective problem-solving skills. In addition, we counsel parents regarding how they can supportively respond to their child’s successes and failures.

Children with low self-esteem frequently harbor unrealistic expectations of themselves and set unobtainable goals. To address this situation, we teach children to establish more realistic goals and to implement a series of small steps that lead to their overall objective. By proceeding in this fashion, children can practice new problem-solving skills and experience success on the way to accomplishing age-appropriate goals. Coping and problem-solving efforts are acknowledged, while failure is met with reassurance, encouragement and further development of the skills necessary to succeed. We encourage parents to assist and support their child by verbally praising strengths as well as by encouraging the child to persevere, particularly when initial efforts have not been successful.

Change may not come quickly. However, over time, the experience of succeeding at progressively more difficult tasks enhances the child’s sense of competence and creates an intrinsic motivation to accept new challenges. The child begins to think more positively about the future, to show more confidence in his or her abilities and to express a more positive sense of self-worth and self-value.

Our behavior as individuals reflects how we view ourselves. Children who feel good about themselves are happier and more productive. Healthy self-esteem is reflected in children’s willingness to accept compliments, showing pride in their appearance and accomplishments, behaving responsibly and assertively while setting and achieving appropriate and positive goals.


For more information or to make an appointment, please call Swerdlow-Freed Psychology at (248) 539-7777. Our offices are conveniently located at 30600 Northwestern Highway, Suite 210, Farmington Hills, Michigan 48334, and 55 North Pond Drive, Suite 6, Walled Lake, Michigan 48390.

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