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November 3, 2022
September 27, 2023

High Self-Esteem: Building Positive Self-Regard in Children

As an adult, you probably have a sense of the importance of self-esteem. Self-esteem allows you to feel good about yourself, take risks in your career, make friends, and have a positive attitude when faced with challenges. Self-esteem is important for children too: it helps them navigate the world with confidence, try new things, and persevere through difficulties. Self-esteem is something that develops early in childhood and parents have a role to play when it comes to their children cultivating high self-esteem. 

As an adult, you probably have a sense of the importance of self-esteem. Self-esteem allows you to feel good about yourself, take risks in your career, make friends, and have a positive attitude when faced with challenges. Self-esteem is important for children too: it helps them navigate the world with confidence, try new things, and persevere through difficulties. Self-esteem is something that develops early in childhood and parents have a role to play when it comes to their children cultivating high self-esteem. 

Here, we’ll take a close look at what self-esteem is, how it develops in children, its benefits and impacts, how parents can help their children foster self-esteem, and where to go for extra support if your child is struggling with self-esteem.

What Is High Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the inherent value a person feels about themselves and has to do with an internal sense of self-worth and confidence. High self-esteem means that you have an overall positive view of yourself, and you feel able to put yourself out there, take risks, try new things, make friends, and persist when faced with adversity.

It’s normal for children to have times where their self-esteem is high and times when it’s lower. As children develop, it’s natural to have moments where they doubt their abilities, feel shy and guarded toward others, and fearful of new situations. In fact, childhood is a time where children are faced with situations that help them develop and hone their self-confidence and self-esteem. 

Self-esteem in children can become a problem when they persistently exhibit signs of low self-esteem and this impacts their day-to-day life and feelings of self-worth.

How Self-Esteem Develops in Children

The development of self-esteem in children is multi-faceted, and has to do with a child’s inborn temperament and personality, how they are parented, and any external challenges they may encounter.

It’s thought that self-esteem develops as early as infancy, and research has found that a child’s sense of self-esteem is established by the age of five. Simply having loving, available, nurturing parents can shape a child’s self-esteem, and as children grow and learn new skills, encouraging, positive messages from parents about their child’s abilities helps boost self-esteem. The ways that parents help children manage challenging situations—and the messages they send their children about their strength and competence—can also impact a child’s self-esteem. 

But parenting isn’t the only factor that can influence how self-esteem develops in children. Research has found that being more prone to anxiety and neurosis, or having timid or shy temperament can make cultivating high self-esteem more challenging. Additionally, external factors like having a learning difference can make self-esteem harder to foster. For example, research has shown that children with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to experience low self-esteem. This is especially true when the ADHD goes untreated.

How Does Negative Self-Talk Affect Self-Esteem?

The messages children hear from others—like parents, teachers, and peers—can impact their self-esteem. But the messages they tell themselves about their self-worth can have an effect as well. Self-talk refers to the running dialogue and messages you give yourself. Self-talk that is negative in nature can shape self-esteem negatively.

Examples of negative self-talk in kids would be phrases like, “I’m so stupid,” or “I can never do anything right.” Parents can listen for this kind of talk, and gently offer more positive or realistic suggestions. It’s important not to harshly correct children when you hear negative self-talk, as this can make them feel even worse about themselves. 

Acknowledging a child’s feelings, and reframing what they are saying can be helpful. For example, you can say, “It’s normal to feel disappointed in yourself sometimes. Let’s talk about what went right, and what you can learn from your mistakes.”

Signs of High Self-Esteem

Self-esteem looks different for different kids, and may change as children go through different developmental stages.

Some signs of high self-esteem in kids may include:

  • Seeming confident and being able to recognize strengths
  • Feeling like others like them and accept them for who they are
  • Showing pride when accomplishing task and meeting goals
  • Having a basic belief in their own abilities
  • Being willing to try new things and take risks, as well as bounce back after setbacks

It’s also helpful to recognize signs of low self-esteem in children. These may include:

  • Not wanting to take on challenging tasks for fear of failure
  • Not following through with difficult tasks
  • Giving up on a game or activity as soon as anything goes wrong
  • Withdrawing from friends and not wanting to engage socially
    Showing signs of anxiety, depression, or anger
  • Negative self-talk
  • Fixating on what others think of them
  • Not being able to recognize strengths
  • Not taking pride in accomplishments

What Are the Benefits of High Self-esteem?

Children benefit in many ways from having a healthy amount of high self-esteem. For example, high self-esteem can help kids:

  • Have the confidence to meet new people and engage in new activities
  • Put forth their best effort
  • Feel pride in themselves
  • Learn from their mistakes
  • Persevere through challenges
  • Accept and love themselves

Having high self-esteem is beneficial during childhood but can have long-term impacts as well. Research from psychologists at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Bern found that people with strong self-esteem are overall more successful academically, socially, and at work. They are also more likely to have better physical and mental health, and they’re less likely to engage in antisocial behavior. These benefits endure from the teen years and throughout a person’s life.

Mental Health Impacts of Self-Esteem

Having feelings of high self-esteem generally feels positive and good, whereas experiencing low self-esteem usually doesn’t feel good and isn’t desirable. But the impacts of low self-esteem go beyond simply feeling bad or unhappy. Low self-esteem can have negative effects on a child’s mental health.

Here’s what to know about self-esteem and mental health in children:

What's the Connection between Body Image and Self-Esteem?

Body image in the teen years is influenced by many factors, including images in the media, peer pressure, and pressure from family members. As the American Psychological Association (APA) describes it, there is a clear correlation between low self-esteem and body image issues in children and teens. At the same time, positive self-esteem can decrease the likelihood of a child experiencing body image issues.

It’s known that children with body image issues are more likely to develop eating disorders and disordered eating patterns, which is why parents and others who love and care for children should be aware of the connections between self-esteem and body image. If you have concerns about your child’s body image, or if you are concerned that they are developing unhealthy habits around eating, please reach out to your pediatrician or a licensed mental health professional.

How to Have High Self-esteem: What Parents Can Do to Help

If your child is struggling with low-self esteem, you aren’t powerless. There are simple things parents can do to nurture high self-esteem in their children. Here are some strategies to help children and teenagers develop strong self-esteem:


Praise your child, but do it with care; research has found that it’s important to praise a child’s effort, not just the outcome.


Encourage your child to try new things, and to take on new and different challenges; emphasize the importance of trying and don’t dwell on perfection or the end result.

Model high self-esteem

Be a good self-esteem role model for your child: show them the power of taking risks, continuing to persist despite challenges, and not being weighed down by mistakes.

Be gentle

Don’t be too harsh with criticism; remember that the negative messages you send your child can become their negative self-talk.

Focus on strengths

Zero in on your child’s strengths whenever possible and praise your child when they have behaved well or accomplished something they wanted to accomplish.

Are There Specific Activities to Boost Self-Confidence?

Having a positive and nurturing parenting approach is one way to tackle low self-esteem in children. But there are other more practical steps you can take to boost your child’s self-confidence. Incorporating these activities into your child’s life can be helpful:

  • Carve out quality time with your child and spend time doing activities you both enjoy that aren’t competitive in nature.
  • Make sure you tell your child that you love them often, and make sure they know that love isn’t something that needs to be earned.
  • Attend your child’s games, recitals, and other important events; this helps children know that you take interest in their accomplishments and care about them.
  • Encourage your child to express themselves—in conversation, in school, and in creative endeavors; doing this ensures that your child knows their voice and opinion matters.
  • Engage your child in social interactions from an early age; healthy socialization and friendships can boost self-esteem.
  • Find opportunities for your child to give back to their community through volunteering or other non-competitive community-building events.

Where to Go From Here

There are many things you can do as a parent to help your child build up and boost their self-esteem, but some children need more help. If your child shows persistent signs of low self-esteem—such as negative self-talk, withdrawing socially, being unwilling to try new things, or showing signs of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues—it may be time to reach out to a licensed therapist. 

Therapists can help children cultivate high self-esteem. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help children and teens with self-esteem issues by helping them recognize, and change, some of the negative thoughts and negative self-talk they may be experiencing. CBT can help children reframe these thoughts into more positive, realistic, and productive ones.

Learning about self-esteem in children can make it easier to recognize when additional support is needed, and fortunately, there are proven ways to improve self-confidence. To get help for a child needing to improve their self-esteem, start with a free consultation from a licensed Handspring Health therapist today. 


American Academy of Pediatrics. Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Children & Teens.

American Psychological Association. Praising Children for Their Personal Qualities May Backfire, New Research Finds.

Blouin M. Research Review Shows Self-Esteem Has Long-Term Benefits. University of California, Davis.

Cleveland Clinic. Constantly Down on Yourself? How To Stop Negative Self-Talk.

Henriksen IO, Ranøyen I, Indredavik MS, et al. The role of self-esteem in the development of psychiatric problems: a three-year prospective study in a clinical sample of adolescents. Child Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. 2017;11:68. doi:10.1186/s13034-017-0207-y

McElroy M. Children’s self-esteem already established by age 5, new study finds. University of Washington News.

Nemours Children's Health. Feeling Good About Yourself (Self-Esteem).

Nemours Children's Health. Your Child's Self-Esteem.

O'Dea JA. Body image and self-esteem. In: Cash TF, ed. Encyclopedia of body image and human appearance. 2012;141–14.

Robins RW, Donnellan MB, Widaman KF, et al. Evaluating the link between self-esteem and temperament in Mexican origin early adolescents. Journal of Adolescence. 2010;33(3):403-410. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2009.07.009

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