Have you ever wondered why a seemingly beautiful, intelligent girl feels inadequate, or why an athletic, handsome boy is shy and uncomfortable in his own skin?  Perhaps you have known someone who earns high grades in school, yet he is sure he will fail the next test.

To doubt oneself is painful, and if left unchecked, can lead a child to avoid challenges, and at worst, not meet his potential.  Anxiety, avoidance, oppositional behaviors (not to mention drug and alcohol abuse) often stem from low self-esteem. By the same token, a child who believes in himself is likely to take on challenges, reach out to others and make independent decisions when peers make dangerous suggestions.

Many believe self-esteem is an offshoot of compliments and/or doing well at something. This is sometimes referred to as “external locus”, as one is relying on outside events to boost their feelings about themselves.  

A roller coaster ride can result when a compliment about a win leads one to feel on top of the world, but a real or even imagined failure or rejection can dump someone into the depths of despair and self-doubt.  Although complimenting your children on their efforts and their character are certainly helpful, focusing too much on their grades or the outcome of their sports events can actually provoke anxiety. We have control over our efforts, our morals and our character, but we don’t always have control over outcomes.


To build self-esteem parents should instead focus on:

  • encouraging your child to listen to his inner voice to make decisions that are right for him (along with your guidance, of course).  
  • listening to your child and respecting her thought processes so she learns to believe in her capacity to solve problems and make good decisions.
  • trusting your child (unless he gives you a reason not to do so) as he will be more likely to make decisions that meet your values.
  • helping your child learn from her mistakes and come up with better solutions for next time so she knows you believe in her.
  • helping your child understand we all have “challenge areas” so he can more easily recover when he falls.  

Critical feedback can ring in a child's ears for years to come. Positive encouragement can live in a child's spirit for a lifetime.