Self-Esteem: How We Parents Can Foster It in Children and In Ours

Self, Family

Self-esteem is both learned and earned. Here's how we can encourage self-esteem in our children.

Self-esteem is both learned and earned. Therefore, self-esteem is not a quality we can give to our children, but it is something we can give over to them. Here's how.

How Is Self-Esteem Learned?

Building self-esteem is learned mostly by modeling. When our children see us, other older relatives, teachers, coaches, clergy, youth leaders or other role models confidently approaching the challenges in their positions, they learn that achieving goals is possible, and even probable.  But as with most child-rearing, most of their influences will come from us, their mothers and fathers. In other words, the best way to encourage self-esteem in our children is to cultivate it ourselves. We can't do it for them, but we can be it for them.

Food for thought is to "do something scary once a week" (or even once/day). Most of don't move forward because of some fear, big or small. The more we use our anxieties to spur on action, the more self-esteem we attain.  Share your accomplishments with your children, even explaining that you were afraid. In this way, the self-esteem gaining process is also bonding for the family.

How Is Self-Esteem Encouraged?

Self-esteem can be increased by encouraging children to stretch beyond their comfort zones. The best thing we can do for our kids is to help identify what they want, and then encourage them reach long for it. Only if we stretch for a challenge can we feel the reward of self-esteem. If we succeed without stretching, we can feel happy, but we will not build our self-esteem. We can work with our children to establish a step-by-step plan, while letting them do the bulk of the work if not all of it. A good tip is to try something 20 times (some even say 100 times). Usually children will see the benefits after a few tries, but the number 20 gives them a helpful benchmark focus.

During the process of learning, continue to praise your children's efforts sincerely, and specifically. For example, instead of just saying, "Wow, that's really great," add in the detail of an aspect that you noted, such as, "Wow, I can see that you lifted your legs even higher this time with that cartwheel!" or "I see that the more you do it, the easier it is for you!"

The Bank Account Metaphor: Self-Esteem Earned

Self-esteem is the sweet reward that comes on the other side of an accomplishment that involves taking risk and trying really hard even if you might fail. Each of us feels great about an accomplishment when we have tried really hard, and thereby we earn self-esteem.

Think of self-esteem like a bank account of earned successes that grows over time and produces confidence as a dividend. Talk about this with them and encourage them to look for and identify opportunities for growth that they can “bank” for later needed confidence. Talk about how good it feels to stretch for success and win. (Some parents even apply this idea literally, providing small financial incentives -or other prizes - for goal reaching.)

An Opportunity for Growth As Parents

As parents, we often find that it's not we who teach our children, it's our children who teach us. In the case of developing self-esteem, since we are "esteemed" to model the confident and goal-aspiring behavior for our children, we are granted the opportunity to foster our own self-esteem in order to teach by example.  As parents, we can go with our instincts to determine the best model for our own families – in fact, when our children see us following instincts confidently, they have yet another window into watching us actualize our self-esteem.

To learn more about Dr. Clark, and the work that she does, please visit, follow her on Twitter @DrAliciaClark, or like her on Facebook at AliciaHClarkPsyD.