Strengthening your school-age child's self-esteem

Self-esteem, which is a child's sense of worth and belonging, is very fragile between the ages of 6 to 10. Every day, children in this age group face new challenges at home with their families and at school with their friends and teachers. At the end of one day, they may feel good about themselves. They have fun with their friends, have done well at school, and are happy at home. The next day, it may all fall apart if even one thing goes wrong.

Of course, many factors influence children's self-esteem, including their nature or their innate abilities, and how they are nurtured—their experience with their parents, caregivers, and others.

It is normal for self-esteem to rise and fall in cycles, from day to day and even hour to hour, as a child builds and then rebuilds his or her self-concept. Children who feel as though they are not good in at least one thing tend to be emotionally vulnerable.

To help strengthen and support healthy self-esteem in your child:

  • Help your child learn how to make and keep friends. Healthy friendships are important because children in this age group are increasingly sensitive about how their friends feel about them.
    • Teach your children the social skills needed to meet friends, such as how to introduce themselves, start conversations, and politely join in play.
    • Model healthy relationships with your spouse, relatives, and friends.
    • Encourage your children to talk about their concerns and problems making friends.
    • Talk to your children about behaviors you observe when they are with their friends. Do this later so as not to embarrass your child. Note specific behavior, and offer suggestions for improvement. For example, "I heard you tell Sarah you wouldn't go to the wading pool with her. Do you think that may have hurt her feelings? How do you think you could have handled it better?"
  • Reassure your child that you accept him or her even when others do not. A child's self-esteem wavers from situation to situation and sometimes moment to moment, depending upon the interaction. A child's sense of self-worth deepens when adults help him or her understand that life has its ups and downs.
  • Respond positively to your child's efforts and interests. Children are often able to see through flattery or excessive praise. They usually appreciate an adult's genuine concern and interest, however. Make your comments specific, such as "I really like the face on this person you drew. You did such a good job on the nose, which is so hard!" Help and encourage your child with homework, and show an interest in his or her activities.
  • Involve your child in chores around the house that stretch his or her abilities. Children gain a sense of accomplishment when they are offered real challenges rather than those that are merely frivolous or fun.
  • Treat your child with respect. Ask his or her views and opinions, consider them seriously, and give meaningful and realistic feedback. Children's self-esteem grows when they are respected by adults who are important to them.
  • Support your child during his or her failures. After giving your child time to reflect on a disappointment or problem, help him or her to understand the situation. For example, if your child lies to you, explain why this is not appropriate behavior. Often, children lie when they have done something wrong so that they don't disappoint their parents. Let your child know that while you can understand why he or she lied, it is your responsibility as a parent to address the behavior. Make sure you convey that your love is unconditional, regardless of whether your child has made a mistake.
  • Encourage communication. You can help open up dialogue with your child by asking questions in an indirect way. For example, ask open-ended questions such as, "Tell me more about the math test" or "It sounds like it was a busy day." Using these types of techniques helps to you to talk with children in a natural way, so you quiz your child less with standard questions, such as "What did you do at school today?" Actively listen to what your child says. Sometimes you don't need to say anything.

Last Updated: May 20, 2009

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