Developing self-esteem

There is much research that shows that self-esteem plays a huge role in children developing in their quest of discovering and building their strong selves. Self- esteem is a key element of emotional well-being for children to be curious and confident enough to keep trying different things and experiences through recognising their weaknesses and strengths and learning how to use those effectively.

From my experience working with children and adults from various backgrounds I keep stumbling across skewed self-esteem one way or another which hinders people to be well-balanced and to benefit from their life experiences enabling them to learn and grow.

From an early age, children compare themselves with others in areas such as academics, the ability to make and keep friends, and athletic prowess etc. They learn by comparing and referring to others’ achievements and if their experiences are not as varied and positive it is very easy for them to get in the negative spiral of judging themselves and staying in a passive-aggressive state most of the time protecting the comfort of their beliefs. That is why it is very important to notice positives and focus on the strengths of those children who struggle to recognise their own unique qualities, show those to others and end up by misbehaving get labelled as naughty, bad and useless. Everyone has their own strengths and qualities, with some children we just need to dig deeper to notice, reinforce and let them practice those through various experiences.

We need to practice being a lighthouse for children in our lives, having and showing them a vision of themselves based on the positives we want and see in them. We need to guide them through the rosebushes of their life experiences, instead of projecting our fears and worries about what they might end up like based on the negative labels they’ve gained so far. Notice, acknowledge and encourage true colours of the children you work with to promote that self-esteem and positive well-being which will help them to adequately interpret their life experiences and become more resilient through difficult times.

Little actions that can help in a big way!

  • High quality connections/interactions. There is a growing body of research that shows that the presence
    of at least one adult who makes a child feel special and appreciated leads to greater resilience and
    hopefulness in the child. Children feel special when their efforts are appreciated, when adults notice what
    makes them different in a positive light and when adults carve out special time to spend with the child.
    High quality connections play a huge role in shaping up our aspirations and life purposes. I am sure
    everyone can relate to it by reminding yourself of one significant adult from your school memories who
    inspired you in one way or another….


  • Help the child with problem solving and decision-making skills. Solid problem-solving skills have been
    linked to higher self-esteem. Instead of providing a child with the solution to their difficulty (whether academically, socially etc.), help the child brainstorm possible solutions and the possible consequences of different decisions.


  • Acknowledge effort. Avoid judgmental comments and praise the effort children put into their work. Often children with preoccupied minds are putting effort into their work but still struggle. Acknowledge their effort even more so when it does not meet your expectations of it. Help the child find new strategies for learning that will help them feel more successful.


  • Empathy and compassion. Be empathic with the child’s struggles, whichever way they are presenting these in the moment (behaviour that challenges is one of the strongest messages of the child’s disconnection). Be mindful of explicitly comparing learning of children with peers or siblings.


  • Highlight the child’s strengths in non-academic areas, use them as bridges to create connections an promote interest. It can be music, art, athletics, etc., or highlight the strengths of their personality, (kindness, tenacity, helpfulness, sense of humour, etc.), suggest ways of using those strengths, use metaphors etc.


  • Provide opportunities for a child to help. Helping others helps a child show that they have something to offer their family and community, it creates meaning and promotes intrinsic motivation, which in its turn allows children to connect, discover and build their hidden strengths.


Every smile matters!