Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem

It is important for kids to build self-esteem — a sense of self-worth — as they grow up so they can live a positive and proud adult life. As they get older, you should start to see children exhibit feelings and behaviors that reflect confidence and security.

When a child has high self-esteem, they may be better able to resist peer pressure, deal with failure, and persevere through problems. They often are more willing to try things again so they can learn and grow from the experience.

Conversely, a child who has low self-esteem may not deal well with setbacks. They may seem fearful or shy and give up easily on goals and dreams. This vulnerability could put them in a position to be bullied or treated poorly by others.

Developing Self-Esteem

While self-esteem develops over time, it starts early in a child’s life. Babies seek to feel loved by and safe with others. It is important to give your baby the right level of care and attention to their needs.

As a toddler, they are slowly learning how to do small independent things for themselves. They can understand what a smile or clap means when they do something positive, or what a frown means if they do something wrong. A child also can seek out attention and praise from their parents.

Children build their self-esteem in many ways. Some examples include:

  • Trying new activities.
  • Learning new material in school.
  • Practicing or advancing a skill.
  • Being praised for doing something well.
  • Feeling included by others.
  • Making new friends.
  • Feeling respected or understood.
  • Winning a prize.
  • Receiving a good grade.

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A Parent’s Role in Self Esteem

You can play a large role in helping your child develop high self-esteem. Some ideas to try:

Introduce your child to new things.

This can be teaching your baby how to walk, or showing your child a new hobby to try.

Challenge your child.

It’s important to let your child do things for themselves so they learn. You don’t want to make everything too easy for them — or too challenging. Provide them help if they need it, but don’t do everything for them.

Give praise and feedback.

If your child does something well, praise them in the appropriate amount. They should know you are proud of their accomplishments. Encourage them to always try their best, no matter the outcome. Let them know it’s OK and normal to fail sometimes — but they should try again.

Be a good role model.

It is important to lead by example. Some ways of doing this are:

  • Don’t overly criticize them or yourself.
  • Use positivity and focus on developing their strengths.
  • Show them how to get tasks done with resilience instead of being negative or complaining.
  • Give your child responsibilities.
  • Encourage more independence.

Handling Low Self-Esteem Situations

If you feel that your child is showing signs of low self-esteem, there are many ways to help. Encourage your child to talk about how they are feeling. Try to discuss things without yelling. Never insult your child or make them feel worse; instead, promote positivity.

Teach your child the importance of learning from their mistakes. Remind them that everyone faces challenges and fails sometimes. Share a time when you failed but tried again and succeeded.

Social Media Use

Numerous studies indicate that social media use correlates to increased risks of depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, and anxiety. Some studies show that social media may decrease self-esteem among adolescents, especially with girls between the ages of 10 and 14.

Teach your child that not everything they view online is accurate. Limit or monitor their screen time if you see it impacting their confidence or affecting their view of themselves or others.


It is also important to promote genuine communication between yourself and your child. If your child is excited about something they did or accomplished, let them tell you about it. Be enthusiastic in the things they are interested in and let them express their creativity. Always show your support and let them know that you are there to help if they need assistance.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.