Family, Kids & Relationships

How To Build Your Child’s Self Esteem While Keeping Them Humble

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Ever wonder if you’re praising your kids too much—or not enough? We all want our kids to be confident and to believe in themselves, but we don’t want them to get a “big head” either. So how do you strike the right balance? 

Finding that balance has a lot to do with the types of messages we send our kids, and what they’re being taught to value. So next time you want to encourage your child and show them that you’re proud—without blowing things out of proportion—keep these guidelines in mind.

How to build your child’s self-esteem while keeping them humble

  • Value teamwork
  • Give honest, specific feedback
  • Acknowledge obstacles for your child and others
  • Find opportunities to give back
  • Practice gratitude

Value teamwork

When there’s a group effort (as with most things, especially when young kids are involved), model giving everyone credit—not pretending the kid did it all by themselves if they didn’t.

Examples of phrases to use:

  • “Everyone worked so hard to clean up the house. What a great team we are!”
  • “I love how you kept trying, AND you let your coach help you too. That’s the way to get better at something!”
  • “We each have an important job to do. It makes me happy when we work together.”

Give honest, specific feedback

If you rave “that’s amazing” every time your kid shows you a scribble, they’ll start to expect big praise for every little thing they do. Instead, give sincere, accurate feedback, and ask encouraging Qs so they’ll want to keep working and sharing their progress.

You can say things like:

  • “It’s so colorful! How did you decide which color to use here?”
  • “It looks like you spent a lot of time on this project. Did you enjoy doing it?”
  • “That is a very detailed description. How did you remember all of those details?”

Acknowledge obstacles for your child and others

When you offer praise for a major win like doing well on a test, talk about the hard work that went into it and any problems they overcame. Show that you’re impressed with others’ efforts, too.

For example:

  • “I can see that you and your study partner helped each other focus, because I know you were having trouble with that at the beginning of the year.”
  • “Wow, it’s great watching how much your friend has improved her dribbling skills, too! She must have been practicing a lot.”

Find opportunities to give back

Find ways for your family to help the wider community, like a volunteer project or a fundraiser for something besides their own school/team. Kids gain a sense of pride, and expand their empathy for others.

The following ideas are sure to start great convos about the importance of helping others:

  • Bring kids to a local park cleanup or pick a day to clean up your own block.
  • Have kids pick out items to donate to a school supply or holiday toy drive.
  • Start a giving jar that everyone in the family can add loose change to, and at the end of the year vote on which organization will receive the funds.

Practice gratitude

A regular gratitude exercise (like everyone saying one thing they’re grateful for during dinner, or writing a couple thank you notes each month) encourages kids to think of people who may have helped them, in small and big ways, to get where they are.

You can model that line of thought by saying things like:

  • “I’m grateful that my friend sent me this recipe for such a yummy meal. How should we thank him?”
  • “Is there anyone you want to write a thank you note to after such a fun soccer season?”
  • “It was thoughtful of you to thank the bus driver. I bet that made her feel appreciated.”

Raising a child with high self esteem without creating an egomaniac might sound like a delicate balance, but it’s definitely doable! Following these tips can help ensure your child gets a healthy balance of confidence, pride, and humility.


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Joanna Eng is a freelance writer and editor, Lambda Literary Fellow, and co-founder of Dandelions, a parenting and social justice newsletter. She lives with her wife and child in the New York City area, where she is constantly seeking out slivers of nature. You can find her on Twitter @joannamengland.