Understanding the self esteem needs of our children and how educators and parents can be instrumental in their mental development.

Self-esteem is a child’s defense against the challenges they face in the world. Children who recognise their strengths and weaknesses and have positive feelings about themselves often find it easier in resolving conflicts and thwarting negative influences.

Self-esteem is similar to self-worth (how much a person values himself or herself) or can be defined as feeling capable while also feeling loved. This can change day to day or year to year, but overall self-esteem tends to  develop from infancy and continues until adulthood.


Self-esteem fluctuates as kids grow. It’s frequently changed and fine-tuned, because it is affected by a child’s experiences and new perceptions. So it helps to be aware of the signs of both healthy and unhealthy self-esteem.

Kids with low self-esteem Kids with healthy self-esteem
may not want to try new things they tend to enjoy interacting with others;
may speak negatively about themselves (e.g., “I’m stupid”, “I’ll never learn how to do this”, or “What’s the point? Nobody cares about me anyway.” they are comfortable in social settings and enjoys group activities as well as independent pursuits
may exhibit low tolerance for frustration, giving up easily or waiting for somebody else to take over; when challenges arise, they can work towards finding solutions and voice discontent without belittling themselves or others.
this can place kids at risk for stress and mental health problems, as well as real difficulties solving different kinds of problems and challenges For example, rather than saying, “I’m an idiot,” a child with healthy self-esteem says “I don’t understand this.” They know their strengths and weaknesses, and accept them.
A sense of optimism prevails

A person with low self-esteem tends to be overly critical of and easily disappointed in themselves…sees temporary setbacks as permanent, intolerable conditions, and a sense of pessimism prevails…”

Self-concept is a factual description of how you perceive yourself Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to accomplish some specific goal or task.


Provide a safe environment

Children need a safe place to learn, grow and tackle appropriate challenges and risks: This not only refers to the physical safety of the environment but also the safety of having support and encouragement to try new things. Allowing them greater freedoms it shows them that you trust them. This then helps in building their self-confidence and independence, and by urging them to be motivated and challenge themselves you are also helping them to feel good about themselves.

Encourage exercise

Exercise maintains a healthy body image. It is much easier for kids to follow actions rather than words. So be sure to involve your children in physical activities as a family. The teenage years bring much uncertainty and comparisons about body image and physical appearance. Hence, it is important that our children have a healthy approach to exercise and its association with health and well-being rather than purely appearance.

Failure is OK

Let them know that it is OK to experience failure. Despite the “constant praises” we give, in real life we know that we cannot always win the prize, make the sports team, get the best grades or go through life unscathed by loss or disappointment. It is for this reason that we must allow our kids to be exposed to such disappointments from an early age so they have the resilience to pick themselves up and try again. It is our role to help support them though these disappointments and encourage them to try again. This may help to build up the coping mechanisms that enable them to adapt to the challenges that will only increase as they grow.


Help them learn how to set and achieve goals. Children need to be shown the importance of setting goals and most importantly setting goals that are achievable and realistic whilst still challenging. They also need to have the skills to get back on track when things don’t go to plan. This helps them to start thinking about their futures and encourages them to be motivated to strive for success. This ability to set goals and plan for the future can also start early. The more relevant to their interests you can make their goals, the more likely they are to succeed, and the more likely it is that they will be able to adapt their goal setting to the many other areas of their lives that may need assistance.

Be a good role model

Again, our children learn so much more from the way we live our own lives rather than how we teach them to live theirs. So it is important not to be constantly whining about weight, wrinkles or weaknesses etc., but rather be seen to be focusing on positive things or doing something positive about certain situations. E.g. It is much better for them to hear “I feel so much better when I exercise and have so much more energy” rather than “I’m so fat and revolting I should be doing more exercise”!

Contribution from a parent, Natsie Huang: “We as a family constantly build up his self-esteem by complimenting what he does correctly and always compliment his effort and good work. The other important factor is routine in his daily schedule. Both of us have an agreement on a study timetable whereby he knows when he can rest and have his own free time (after 7pm) so we do not have to argue on how much or little time he spent on his study. The last but not least is consistency in revision; i.e. I will spend 30 mins to revise in Grammar and Vocab, 10 minutes to do reading with him”


Be careful what you say.

Kids can be sensitive to the words used by parents’, teachers’ and others. Remember to praise him/her not only for a job well done, but also for effort. But be truthful. For example, if the child failed a test, avoid saying something like, “Well, next time you’ll work harder and make it.” Instead, try “Well, you didn’t pass the test, but I’m really proud of the effort you put into it.” Reward effort and completion instead of outcome.

Be a positive role model.

If you’re excessively harsh on yourself, pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your kids might eventually mirror you. Nurture your own self-esteem and they’ll have a great role model.

Identify and redirect inaccurate beliefs.

It’s important for parents and teachers to identify kids’ irrational beliefs about themselves, whether they’re about perfection, attractiveness, ability, or anything else. Helping kids set more accurate standards and be more realistic in evaluating themselves will help them have a healthy selfconcept.

Be spontaneous and affectionate.

Your love will help boost your child’s self-esteem. Give hugs or a pat on their back and tell kids you’re proud of them when you can see them putting effort toward something or trying something at which they previously failed. Write little notes with messages like “I think you’re terrific!” Give praise often and honestly, but without overdoing it. Note: Having an inflated sense of self can lead kids and teens to put others down or feel that they’re better than everyone else, which can be socially isolating.

Give positive, accurate feedback.

Comments like “You always work yourself up into such frenzy!” will make kids feel like they have no control over their outbursts. A better statement is, “I can see you were very angry with your brother/ classmate, but it was nice that you were able to talk about it instead of yelling or hitting.” This acknowledges a child’s feelings, rewards the choice made, and encourages the child to make the right choice again next time.

Create a safe environment

Create a safe, loving environment, at home or in school. Kids who don’t feel safe or are abused at home are at greatest risk for developing poor selfesteem. A child who is exposed to parents who fight and argue repeatedly may feel they have no control over their environment and become helpless or depressed.

Constructive Experiences

Help kids become involved in constructive experiences. Activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem. For example, mentoring programs in which an older child helps a younger one learn to read can do wonders for both kids. Volunteering and contributing to your local community can have positive effects on self-esteem for everyone involved.

When promoting healthy self-esteem, it’s important to not have too much or too little but “just enough”. Make sure your kids don’t end up feeling that if they’re average or normal at something, it’s the same as not being good or special.



This article was first published in FACETS Vol 1, 2017

About the Author

Sharen Ong is a Lead Educational Therapist based in DAS Jurong Point Learning Centre. Learn more about Sharen