Child self-esteem: What is it and how do I support it?

We hear about self-esteem all of the time and it’s importance in helping our children develop into healthy adults but what does it really mean?

Society likes to link self-esteem to our ability to put ourselves out there, whether it be speaking up in class or performing in public.

We’re here to tell you that self-esteem is not our ability to do these things.

We know that many shy people dread nothing less than standing up to present at work. But they actually have very high self-esteem, it’s just that they don’t quite fancy doing those activities, and that’s ok.

So, what is self-esteem?


So put simply, self-esteem is our overall judgement of our own worth. To make this judgement, we think about many different factors. We might consider our self-confidence, which is a rating of how well we perform in certain areas of our lives, perhaps in our jobs or social relationships. We might also think about our self-concept, that is how we define ourselves as a person in the present. As social beings we like to think about our self-worth which we do by comparing ourselves to others.

It’s not surprising that we use our early attachment figures as a mirror, reflecting back an assessment of who we are, how worthy we are and how we compare to others. Caregivers who delight when they see their child send the message that their child is loved, worthy and most importantly valued. If a child is met with emotional unavailability, they may feel the need to take up less space and squish their difficult feelings down to receive the care they need and long for.

They learn that a part of them is not valued and that love and care is conditional.

So, self-esteem is not a child’s willingness to please and morph to other’s needs either.

We really start to see the effect that our early attachments have had at around age eight and our self-esteem will continue to fluctuate according to the transitions and challenges we face in life. For example, we tend to see a dip in self-esteem at aged eleven as our children transition into high school. This is because new challenges and relationships can leave a child feeling out of their depth and inadequate. 

The good news is that self-esteem isn’t fixed, we can always make changes to support its growth.

Here’s some of our suggestions on how to support child self-esteem


  1. Take delight in your child – Really notice your child. What characteristics do they have that make you proud? Perhaps they have brilliant comedic timing, creativity or a way of seeing through facades. We recommend keeping praise focusing on their traits rather than their achievements.  

2. Show your child you value them just the way they are – Show your child respect and admiration for who they are in the present moment, even if they go against your values.

3. Explain and coach your child through difficulties – When facing something difficult in school or at home, give your child a way to understand what might be going on. Without an explanation that makes sense they will go to the child default of blaming themselves. Then help support and coach your child to take some action themselves, but keep it appropriate for their age.  Let them feel capable and competent with your background support. 

4. Praise, praise, praise- A golden rule is that for every criticism, we should praise our child three times. Focus on keeping it specific, authentic and focused on their qualities as a person. With that being said, it’s important that we do provide constructive feedback to our children. Our praise holds more weight this way. So constructive feedback should focus on what they have done or the way they have behaved, not their qualities as a person.

If you would like to hear Dr Andrea Shortland explain child-self esteem or you would like to ask more questions about the topic, click here.

As always,

Take care

Pocket family psychologist

Written by Ellie Harper.

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"Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative"

“Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative. During the second period of lockdown and home-schooling; parents and children found themselves again in a period of upheaval and transition. Many parents and carers were extremely worried about their children’s mental health and their own ability to be present and engaged whilst also playing the role of teacher and care giver. Dr Shortland gave attendees an insight into how many parents were feeling; tips on supporting children and helping them cope whilst studying from home and also managing their mental health. She also helped us realise the importance of taking care of ourselves in order to effectively support our children. It was such a useful session that we realise it was also pertinent for not only children’s mental health but also adults! We will be holding another session with Dr Andrea and MediaCom soon.”

Avelon Thompson, MediaCom (following a parenting workshop)