Self Esteem

Self-esteem, more commonly known as “believing in yourself,” is based on three things:

  • Self-confidence
  • A sense of belonging (connectedness)
  • A sense of self-worth (value)

Helping children to develop self-confidence

Self-confidence comes from being competent, from knowing ‘I can do it’. Children over the age of six have generally grasped the basic life skills, such as feeding, dressing and talking. Now they are refining their social skills, learning sports, crafts or other activities, and improving their knowledge.

Children need to feel able to cope with the challenges of everyday life. The more competent children are in carrying out tasks independently and mastering new skills, the greater their level of self-confidence will be.

Give your child help, guidance and support when it is needed. In doing so, try not to take over. When helping your child to learn new skills, break the task into ‘doable’ pieces and give plenty of encouragement.

For example, if your child needs to phone a company as part of a school project, give the necessary help. You might need to help your child to find the number by showing how the names are listed alphabetically. You might also discuss with your child how he or she will start the conversation, what questions will be asked and how he or she will end the call. Perhaps you could encourage your child to write out the questions and have pen and paper ready to write down any answers. If your child is nervous, you might even role play the call beforehand. However, at the end of the call, you want your child to have the inner satisfaction of saying ‘I did it!’

Helping children to develop a sense of belonging

Children need a strong sense of being valued for who they are as unique, lovable individuals – not just for what they do. They need to know with who and where they belong.

First and foremost, make sure your child has a sense of belonging to the family. Even if this family is living under more than one roof, your child needs to know ‘these are the people who matter to me and who care about me.’ If you and the other parent live in separate homes, it is important never to criticise one another to your child and not to question them about family life in the other home, unless there is genuine concern for the child’s safety. If you have a new partner, wait until that relationship is well established before introducing this person to your child. Make sure that you still have special time for your child – just the two of you.

Traditional celebration times such as birthdays are part of feeling ‘I belong’. Most importantly, spend time together and share experiences. Family time together is important, but children also need one-on-one time with their parents (ideally both with dad and with mum or another significant person). Grandparents are often important people in children’s lives because they take time to listen to children’s stories and to tell children the stories of their own lives. This is all a part of feeling connected to family.

There is an African saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ Many of us do not have the privilege of living in closely-knit communities anymore, but we can create communities. Consider doing things with other families who have similar values and interests to you. Children will enjoy activities with their peers, such as Scouts, Girl Guides, or sports.

We also have a sense of connection with the world at large – not only by being aware of it but by responding to it. Perhaps as a family you could create opportunities to connect to the needs in the world beyond. A TV programme about some concern could lead to helping in some practical way or collecting for a cause.

Remember, as a parent you need to know where your child is and who he or she is with.

Helping children to develop a sense of self-worth

We have a sense of self-worth not only by being told that we are valued, but also by having something to contribute. Children need to be encouraged to practically help in the home, being shown and guided through tasks until they are competent, and given acknowledgement for their contribution.

For example, it is more affirming for children when you positively comment on what you notice, rather than using general expressions like “You’re brilliant!” Your child will feel happy that his or her efforts have been noticed when you say something like, “I see you have washed the dishes and put them back in the cupboard. That’s really helpful of you.”

This information is adapted from the Parenting Positively series, a series of booklets by Barnardos that provides information and guidance to parents of children between the ages of 6 and 12. See for further details.