Children's Development

When a Compliment Doesn’t Cut it: What’s the Best Way to Help Build a Child’s Self-Esteem?

Good self-esteem is not just another thing to check off your child’s growth chart.

Instead of structuring this post as a strict “list of things to do” or as a “formula,” we’d like to simply offer some helpful hints for how to help sharpen your child’s sense of self-worth in meaningful ways!

Some of these tips may surprise you, and others, you may already be doing. After all, self-esteem doesn’t come from one place: it comes from a combination of feeling loved, secure, and competent. So as a parent (or caregiver) go easy on yourself. Rather than tackling all of these at once, try to keep one of these tips in mind for the year and incorporate it into your daily routine. You’ll find it’s easier than you think.

Praise Efforts Over Natural Abilities

National Compliment Day is January 24. Did you know that not all compliments are beneficial to children? Compliments based on attributes such as “being smart” or “pretty” can actually undermine confidence. It plants the idea that your child’s success has more to do with natural-born abilities or skills than effort. When your child faces a difficult task, he may judge it as “impossible” based on knowledge of his own skills, instead of putting in the effort required.

As an alternative, tell your child you appreciate and notice his efforts, and research suggests he’ll be more willing to take bigger risks and try harder in school.

Get Involved in Playtime

When’s the last time you sat on the floor and built a castle out of wood blocks or pretended to be a pirate sailing the high seas? Playing with your child isn’t just therapeutic and a bonding experience for you both. It’s also a fantastic way to build your child’s confidence. You’ll be able to help guide and shape your child’s creativity, cooperation, motor skills, and show just how important he is to you.

Frequently Use Their Name

When you use your child’s name, something special happens to his self-esteem. He feels more recognized, respected, and valued. It’s a great way to build rapport and show your child that he is an individual worthy of attention. Use your child’s name whenever you’re addressing him, and teach him to remember to use others’ names. Your child will be more willing to listen and will build better rapport with others right off the bat.

Pay Attention to the Structure of the Classroom

Fill in the blank. Your child learns best while ___________.

Standing? Fidgeting? Working with others? Working alone? Many teachers today are savvy to the requirements of a diverse classroom and structure a positive learning environment to maximize every child’s ability to learn.

Let’s say a teacher notices your child has trouble sitting still and provides an ACE Stool so he can wiggle while he works, thus improving his focus. Now, your child is free to express himself in the classroom and will gain confidence in his ability to learn without simply being labeled “disruptive” or “hyperactive.”

Validate Emotions

When your child feels free to express emotions, he feels safer and more confident in himself. Validate simply means that you recognize your child’s feelings are valid.

Note: it does not mean that you celebrate when your child has a tantrum or lies about his performance to make him feel better about losing a tee ball game. And it’s really not about giving him license to skip after-school reading activities because he doesn’t “feel good about it.”

It simply means you calmly allow your child to express how he’s feeling without fear of rejection or criticism. It’s not always easy, but when you acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions, he will gain a sense of deep confidence.


These aren’t the only things you can do — there are plenty of resources out there to help you bolster children’s self-esteem. If you’re looking for even more literature on the subject, check out this article that consults 19 authors and influencers in the field of personal development to determine easy-action steps to improving self-confidence!

So what will you do this year? Engage in more playtime with your child? Make it a practice to use his name more? Do you have other ways you boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem? Share with us in the comments, and follow our blog for weekly updates on childhood learning and development.


building self esteem