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Building Self-Esteem

Dear Debi,
My daughter is 4 years old. She says, “I can’t do anything right, I just can’t do it because I must be dumb!” How do I help her build self-esteem?
Peggie, Los Angeles, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Self-esteem starts with adults giving positive messages early on
  • Provide opportunities for kids to feel empowered
  • Validate children often
  • Provide problem-solving activities
Expert Advice
Jim Goodrich
Jim Goodrich
Cal State-LA, Early childhood development specialist
Children begin to understand the idea of self-esteem very early on. By the time they are about 3 years old, they begin to perceive themselves in relation to other children. It’s really important that kids receive validating messages about themselves early in life.

Children learn about their view of themselves from their parents, so it’s important to have a partnership with the parents to reinforce their child’s self-esteem. Kids learn by hearing what adults have to say. Make sure your message about and to them validates and encourages who they are at all times.

A provider can help build up a child’s self-esteem by listening to what they have to say. Provide kids with opportunities to feel empowered. Get them involved in activities that encourage their success. Open-ended activities – such as arts and crafts project where there is not a set finished product – help encourage children and build their confidence.

It’s important to observe children to see what their strengths and struggles are. This way, when you see them struggling through something, you can validate and encourage them to get through the process.

Emphasize what they do well and give them very specific messages of encouragement. For example, saying, “Wow, look at what a beautiful color you painted that flower!” These words validate a child much more than if you say, “You did a great job!” because it’s more specific. It tells them that you care and value them enough to be deeply involved in their lives.

Teach them to be persistent and help them work through problem solving. These activities lay the foundation for kids to feel able. If they are continuously validated, they are more apt to take risks, which will allow for more growth and learning. They will learn that if they face challenges in the future, they will be prepared to take them on.
Child Care provider Comments
Child care provider for 10 years
Kids start learning about their self-esteem early on, from the time they are infants. I think it’s important to give them opportunities to build on their self-esteem. I try to give kids activities where they are no right or wrong answers and that encourage kids to explore and try new things.

For example, I had a little boy in my program that was really shy and wouldn’t participate in any of the activities. His parents told me that he was shy and liked to be alone and that if he went off by himself, I should just let him. I started asking him to be my helper during different activities and he slowly started coming out of his shell. Pretty soon, he had gained so much self-confidence that he actually started being a leader amongst the children. Encouragement and the chance he had to explore added to his self-esteem.
Karolina Ramirez
Karolina Ramirez
Child care provider for 6 years
When I see a particular child struggling to complete something, and I see he is becoming frustrated and wants to give up, I make sure to pay extra attention to them. I tell them there is no “right way” of doing any activity and that they should continue to try, instead of giving up on it.
Family child care provider for 4 years
I think it’s important to allow kids to experience failure every once in a while and let them learn from that experience. Mistakes can teach kids problem-solving skills and help them learn what success really means. But I also think it’s important to encourage kids to try again and emphasize the process of something, rather than the end product. Kids should know that it’s the effort that counts and not the end product.

Newspaper Sculpture Featured Activity:
Newspaper Sculpture
Building Self-Esteem Featured Video:
Building Self-Esteem
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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Tips on How to Make Every Child Feel Valued pdf
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