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Building a Child’s Self Esteem

Building Self Esteem in Your Child

The Importance of Healthy Self Esteem

Most parents understand how important healthy self esteem is to the development and success of their children in life. Good self esteem promotes success in school, the ability to make friends and a healthy, enduring marriage, success in the workplace, and the ability to deal
constructively with the hard knocks of life.

Because self esteem is so important to a child’s development and future success in life, it is understandable that parents are concerned about it. It is also understandable how there has come to be so much said about building self esteem in a child. Although a lot of the things parents are hearing about building self esteem in their children makes good sense, predictably a lot of it is pure nonsense. But first, what makes sense?

First, let us clarify some confusion about this much discussed subject. Self esteem is not the same as self centeredness or selfishness. As a matter of fact the person with the lowest self esteem is likely to appear most self centered and unable to give of himself to others. Rather, self
esteem refers to a deep belief in one’s worth and competency, the feeling that I am O.K. and that life is good and that I have something to contribute.

Essential Building Blocks for Healthy Self Esteem

There are three main sources of healthy self esteem. First, a person learns to feel safe, accepted and affirmed in the world during the first twenty-four to thirty-six months of life through the experience of physical and emotional security provided by nurturing parents and parent figures. Basic needs for food, cleanliness, shelter and mental and emotional stimulation must be consistently provided either by the parent or by an parent substitute. If a child lacks a safe, secure environment at the earliest stage of development, he or she will experience life as
threatening and unstable and will grow up to feel incapable of facing the normal challenges of life.

Second, just as a person learns about his or her physical appearance by looking in a mirror so a child learns about his or her worth by looking into the faces of other people, especially parents. If, when a child looks at a parent, he sees disgust and gloom in that face, then the impression is created that the child is the cause of that negative reaction. The child says to himself, “When I look at my parents they look bad; therefore, I must be bad.”

On the other hand, if a child sees delight and gladness in the face of a parent, she concludes that she must be a delightful person of great worth and significance. When a child looks into a parent’s face, she needs to see and feel that the parent looks upon her with utter delight.

Third, in order for a person to feel good about herself, she must do well. Failure damages self esteem. Success and achievement feed self esteem. On the other hand, if a child does not do homework or if he gets F’s on his report card, never does chores at home or mistreats other people, then that child will naturally feel like a failure. Indeed, that child is a failure.

If a child does not do his homework and thus fails at school, or if another child does not do her chores or does not help with chores at home, these failures to fulfill their responsibilities will severely damage their self esteem. There is no way they can feel good when they have not
done well.


There are several misconceptions abut healthy self esteem. One of these is that hardship damages self esteem. This can be refuted by the lives of some of our greatest heroes: Moses, Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., among many others we might name. All of these suffered extreme difficulties and hardship.

No! Hardship does not damage self esteem. If anything, almost the exact opposite is true. High self esteem is developed only in the crucible of hardship and suffering. The Bible makes it clear that suffering is one of the ways we come to know the real meaning of faith. Speaking of the grief Christians must suffer in their trials Peter explains that, “These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Pet 1:7).

If you save your child from frustration and hardship, you rob the child of the most essential skill to grow up into a strong, sensitive, capable adult. If you never let your boy climb a tree because he might fall and hurt himself, or if you refuse to let the little league coach make him sit out the big game because he was late to practice, or if you never make your daughter do what is right even though it hurts, you are not building self esteem. You are simply keeping them from life. You are guaranteeing that they will never grow up, that they will remain emotional babies all their life.

A second misconception says that a parent should be best friends with a child. It is true that children need friends. It is true that a child’s self esteem can be severely damaged by the cruelty of other children. But it is a myth that aparent should be a child’s best friend, at least
while the child is growing up. (Being a friend to your adult child is another matter, but even then the friendship is different from friendship with one’s peers.)

A friend is someone who shares similar issues in life and has a similar perspective on life. Pity the poor child who has a friend for a mother or father. A child needs a parent for the nurture, support, structure and guidance that no friend can or should be expected to provide.

If you are concerned about your child’s self esteem or any aspect of his or her behavior, send us an email using the form on this page or call us at (727) 362-8699.