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People with high self-esteem:

  • appear calm and relaxed, even when under pressure;

  • seem energetic and purposeful;

  • are enthusiastic about everything they do;

  • are positive and optimistic about the future;

  • see minor setbacks as learning; experiences leading to success;

  • are independent and do not need others’ approval;

  • work well with other people, sharing leadership and responsibility;

  • stand up for themselves and others to reach affair conclusion;

  • are not afraid to acknowledge that they have areas of weakness;

  • reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in a constant search for improvement;

  • set realistic goals.


If you have a child approaching adolescence, you have already helped your child to achieve a phenomenal amount.  With your guidance and encouragement, skills like walking, talking, feeding, playing, drawing, reading, swimming, riding a bicycle and making friends were acquired early in your child’s lifetime.  Although there may be late-starters and slow-developers, most parents are certain that their child will master these skills eventually.  They accept that the child will need lots of practice and reinforcement, along with reassurance and praise.  Each mistake provides feedback and information leading to ultimate success, with plenty of opportunities for celebrating each small step along the way.


"If you have high expectations for yourself, high self-esteem and the belief that you will succeed, you will have high achievement.  Think like a winner and you will win."


Bobbi DePorter


Improving your child’s self-image through language


One very effective technique is to talk to someone else about your child’s qualities.  When you introduce your child to someone else, make a point of mentioning a recent success or a particular talent or quality.


When you talk with your child at the end of the day, focus on the good things which have happened.  Even when something negative has happened, help them to see the positives. 


Some children are reluctant to talk about their day, especially if they are asked the question, “What did you do at school today?” on a daily basis.  They feel that the onus is on them to find something interesting to say from a day that may well have been rather routine.  Try to alter the question to encourage your child to talk positively about their day.  “What was the best thing about today?”  Try to be specific – it will show that you have been listening previously.  “Did you enjoy Drama Club?”  “How is the fundraising project coming along?”


Catch your child doing something right and praise or commend them for it.  Adolescence has its fair share of potentially difficult situations – but do not allow these to dominate.  When things go well, make a point of acknowledging how pleased you are.  Treat negative experiences as minor setbacks.  Remind your child of times when they were particularly successful, especially in the face of difficulties.


Avoid comments which reinforce a negative self-image.  If you say to your child, “You’re always so disorganised,” they will think you expect them to be like this and will live up to your expectations.


If your child is doing something you disapprove of, rather than focus solely on the negative aspects, try to paint a more positive picture of the actions or behaviours that you would have preferred them to demonstrate.  “I’m not pleased with the way you did … Normally, I would have expected you to …. And that’s what I hope to see next time.”


Make a point of complimenting your child regularly.


Help your child to set short term targets on the way to achieving long term goals and make a point of acknowledging and celebrating when these milestones are achieved.


At some stage, your child has probably said something like, “I’m no good at spelling” or “I can’t draw,” and you may  have tried to comfort them by replying along the lines of, “Don’t worry, you can’t be an expert at everything and in any case, you’re very good at Maths.”  Whereas this affirmation of their strengths is a positive, your child may have picked up the message that it is acceptable to give up trying to succeed at some things because they will never be any good at them.  Your intentions are good but your child may think that you expect them to fail in certain things.  In the same way that adults give themselves reasons why they shouldn’t try things, young people too can develop a negative self-image and limit their expectations because they expect failure.


It is important to teach your child that to become proficient in any subject or skill, whether it be football skills or playing the guitar, there are times when there are difficulties to be faced.  If you see a difficulty or a mistake as a message that says “I can’t do it,” then you’ll give up.  “I failed this time” soon translates into “I’m a failure”.  If, on the other hand, you regard a stumble or a hitch as useful feedback, it takes on a whole new meaning.  You just need to take in this information and adapt your style or technique.  The self-talk becomes, “ I failed this time because … so next time I will …” and this in turn leads to renewed efforts and ultimately to success.

"The only failure in life is the failure to try”

Bobbi DePorter

A sense of self-worth and high self-esteem cannot be acquired overnight.  It takes many positive comments and a lot of successes to contribute to this state.  Parents have a tremendous impact on the way a child’s self-image develops.  As a constant role model, you can influence your child’s thinking by being positive yourself and having high expectations of yourself.



Have you ever:

  • put down, ridiculed or humiliated your child? – “You’re just a big baby …”

  • compared your child unfavourably to others? – “Your sister would never have behaved like that.” – “Most kids of your age can …  Why can’t you?”

  • refused to give a treasonable explanation? – “Because I say so.” – “You wouldn’t understand.”

  • labelled your child? – “You boys are all the same.”

  • been over-protective of your child, giving the impression that you regard them as stupid or incompetent?

  • been inconsistent in the messages you give, whether in terms of discipline, affection or expectations?



How many of the following do you regularly do?

  • Tell your child that you like, admire or respect them because …

  • Listen carefully whenever your child wants to talk to you.

  • Show that you are fascinated by your child’s abilities and development.

  • Tell your child how much they have done to make you feel proud of them.

  • Actively plan periods of quality time with your child.

  • Plan holidays and leisure activities to meet the needs of all members of the family.

  • Teach your child the skills needed to be a self-sufficient adult.

  • Ask for your child’s help in a variety of areas.

  • Praise and reward your child for small as well as major achievements.

  • Ask for, and listen to, your child’s opinions and show respect for views which differ from your own.

  • Listen to and support your child in difficult and hurtful times.

  • Stand back and allow your child to take risks and make mistakes.

  • Say “I’m sorry”.

  • Say “I don’t know” rather than pretending to know all the answers.



Other articles to help you release your child's potential.


Let me tell you a story

It's good to talk

Developing confidence in mathematics

Problem-solving skills for kids