Encouraging good self-esteem in our children

What is self-esteem?

The term “self-esteem” refers to the feelings a person has about his/her own value or worth. There are two main components of a person’s self-esteem, how much they feel loved and valued, and how capable they feel. A child with good self-esteem feels loved and important in life whereas a child with low self-esteem may feel not so important or feel they are likely to fail when met with a new task.

Self-esteem is something that is learned, not something we are born with. A young child’s self-concept is determined mostly by the “messages” a child receives from others, particularly their parents. These messages can be deliberate or unconscious, verbal and non-verbal. Sometimes the messages a child receives is not what parents really intend. Lastly, the seeds of a child’s self-esteem are sown in the home during the important early, pre-school years.

Why is Self-Esteem important?

Parents want their child to grow up to be happy and confident individuals. When children with high self-esteem are compared to children with low self-esteem, they are usually found to be more self-confident, perform better in school, have more friends, and view their relationship with their parents more positively. Research supports that children with high self-esteem are more resilient in response to life’s challenges and less likely to succumb to peer pressure.

Fostering good self-esteem requires a great deal of patience, perseverance, and self-control. This effort, however, is well worthwhile in promoting a child’s psychological well-being. 

Self-Esteem: The Building Blocks

  • A warm and loving environment
  • Encouraging independence
  • Providing challenges for your child
  • Good discipline
A warm and loving environment

The development of self-esteem starts at the infant stage, when a child develops strong attachments to the adults who are caring for them and who are responsible for their safety and basic needs. This is also when a child begins to formulate a sense of trust for those around them. When a parent provides a child with what they need, a healthy attachment is formed and this acts as the foundation for the child feeling secure and understanding that he or she can count on adults to provide them with what they need in life.

As children grow and develop their individuality, they need to feel loved just for being themselves. It is important for a child to know that their parents love them through the use of affectionate words as well as hugs and kisses. Warmth from parents should not be dependent on behaviour, ability, or a child’s personal traits.

It is also important that parents set aside a special time of the day to spend uninterrupted time with their child. This is a time to allow a child to make a choice in what they want to play, express themselves to their parents and know they have a captive audience which helps build their language skills as well as self-esteem.

Encouraging independence

Children need a sense of competence, a sense of being able to do things. Helping children develop self-help skills gives them feelings of independence which enhances their self-esteem. Even from the early baby and toddler stage, parents can encourage a child to do simple things like feeding themselves finger foods or getting a ball that has rolled into an awkward place. Look out for the things a child is able to do and allow them a chance to do them.

If there is a task that is more challenging like getting dressed, try to simplify the task by breaking it into steps so that a child may experience success in doing even a part of it under their parents guidance.

Encouraging these self-help skills like undressing and dressing, washing their hands and face, eating with a knife and fork and keeping their things tidy are some goals that will give them a sense of achievement.

Providing challenges for a child

In order to build self-esteem, a child needs to have challenging experiences which are appropriate to their stage of development. This might be a physical challenge, like playing on a climbing frame at the park or a more mental task like playing with a jigsaw. Activities that are developmentally appropriate provide a child with a sense of challenge leading to success.

By experiencing such growth and achievement, children learn to take pride in their accomplishments and in themselves.

Good Discipline (Think and Link – Behaviour Management – Positive Parenting)

A firm and loving approach to parenting will help foster a child’s self-esteem. Age appropriate rules, boundaries and structures will provide a sense of security from these clear expectations. If a child receives positive feedback and attention for good behaviour while ignoring minor misbehaviours, this creates an atmosphere of warmth and understanding.

On the subject of discipline, it is important to know that there is a big difference between expressing disapproval of misbehavior and expressing general disapproval of a child. This is a very important distinction to make and a distinction a child needs to understand. Along with discipline should come praise whenever a child listens or does something well. Such positive discipline helps build self-esteem and confidence. Good discipline means focussing objectively on a child’s behaviour rather than the child’s self and will therefore not damage their self-esteem. For example the statement, “I love you, but I don’t like what you have just done” helps a child know that their parent loves them even though they may be critical of the child’s actions. Lastly, if there is conflict between parent and child, then involving the child in solving the problem can sometimes be managed and makes the child feel important.

It is important a child feels they have their parents’ unconditional love and that any discipline is aimed at their behavior and not them.

Ten Ways You Can Build High Self-Esteem in your Child
  1. Plan activities for positive parent-child interactions
  2. Be spontaneous and make the most of opportunities to interact with your child
  3. Pay attention to what your child is telling you – not just what you want to hear or what you want to say to your child
  4. Encourage your child to tell more about the things they do
  5. Do not be judgemental about what your child has told you
  6. Become more aware of what you say to your child, when you say it and how you say it
  7. Show affection for your child not just in actions but also in words
  8. Pay attention to and reward your child’s good behaviour
  9. Give your child some real age-appropriate responsibility which you know your child can do
  10. Make a deliberate decision to help build your child’s self-esteem

©Lifestart Foundation 2018

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Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.


The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books (www.mychild.ie/books) and also on www.MyChild.ie  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.


In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  


Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  


In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the www.mychild.ie website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at www.mychild.ie

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from healthy.childhood@hse.ie

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