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How to build high self-esteem

by Ines Wurbs

Self-worth is part of our self-concept. So, part of the picture we have about ourselves and our abilities. When we elaborate on self-esteem, we usually mean global self-worth, which includes all sub-areas.

Self-esteem is significantly influenced by the culture in which we live, the style of parenting, and the attribution of achievement. We can start with all these areas to improve our self-esteem.

How we develop self-esteem

Even in preschool, most children have good self-esteem. Children around the age of four are already good at adopting other people’s perspectives. They are now comparing themselves to others more and more often. This leads to a more precise picture of oneself. This is often very extreme, especially with younger children. So, I’m either good at it or not at all. Their thinking is still black and white. At school age, our children can better assess the signals of others and thus also gain experience of what others expect of them. 

In middle childhood, i.e. from about the middle of elementary school, children have already gained a lot of experience and feedback about themselves. Now friends and peers become important. Comparisons are mainly made with children of the same age, and in this way, further information about one’s own abilities is collected. However, children of this age often overestimate themselves.

 From about the age of 12, the concept we have about ourselves is relatively stable, especially when it comes to performance. The self-image is very realistic.

Self-esteem aspects

However, not all areas are equally important for children. External appearance is usually significant for self-awareness in late childhood and adolescence.

Reasons for low self-esteem

Studies have shown that the more activities one successfully pursues, the more positively it influences one’s self-esteem.


Depending on what is considered important in the culture we live in, also determines our self-worth. In our latitudes, appearance and academic or professional performance are essential. The advantage in our culture is praise. We say self-praise stinks, but we do it anyway. We rarely praise others, especially outside the family. Luckily, we praise our children more often, and we should do so even. This may not be “noble,” but it’s healthy for self-esteem.

Gender differences also play a role here. In our society, too, certain skills tend to be attributed to boys and others to girls. Studies have shown that girls actually have more self-esteem in these areas, such as language, than boys of the same age. They had this in mathematics, for example. And the fascinating thing is that the children had the same school performance. So despite objectively the same performance, they had better or worse self-esteem in the subjects assigned to them in relation to their gender.

In terms of general self-esteem, however, girls and boys do not differ. Only in the individual sub-areas. Overall, however, these seem to outweigh each other.

Parenting style

Studies have shown that children who were brought up in an authoritative manner have significantly better self-esteem. These are children who are allowed to do age-appropriate tasks themselves, who learn by explanation, and whose parents are loving, patient, attentive, and sensitive to needs. It is easier for children raised in this way to assess their own behavior correctly because the parents have reasonable expectations of them.

If parents are controlling, they teach their children that there are many things they can’t do. This may be the case because they don’t trust their children to do anything, or because they want to take everything away from their children. Well, because they are overprotective. But we humans simply tend to look for other sources. Same with self-esteem.

If parents do not offer the opportunity to gain experience of their own abilities and what is expected of them, children, in particular, are increasingly looking for them in their peers. This is of course a risk, since there are far fewer age-appropriate expectations, but almost exclusively social comparisons.

But beware, over-indulgent and exaggerated praise is also not good (this article tells you how to praise your child effectively). If self-esteem is exaggerated, one believes one can do more than is actually the case. Of course, the disappointment is great when something doesn’t work out. Frustration spreads. In children, of course, this can also lead to aggression.

Performance attribution

Why was I successful? We all subconsciously ask ourselves this question.

People with poor self-esteem blame happiness when they succeed. On the other hand, they are more likely to think that they were too stupid or too clumsy for a task if they didn’t succeed at something. If failures instead of successes are attributed to one’s own abilities, we call this “learned helplessness”. We commonly know this as feelings of inferiority or an inferiority complex. A difficult task is quickly abandoned without trying seriously.

The decisive factor here is the behavior of adults who we or our children consider important. The following statements can be problematic here:

  • “Never mind, you can’t.” 
  • “You are very intelligent.” 

We should praise ability, not personality traits. If success is the result of personality, this can lead to the opinion that we cannot change it. It is as it is. But that’s not how success should be seen. It should be earned. In this way, you can influence yourself.

In the event of setbacks, we tend to question our competence. Statements like: “I’m just too stupid for that” are more likely to come about and naturally have a very negative impact on self-esteem.

Teachers have a powerful impact on our self-esteem. Teachers who are helpful and consider understanding to be more important than pure grades teach children more clearly that they should orientate themselves on their abilities, and that they can also improve them with effort.

Self-esteem training for you and your child


… yourself

  • Be proud of what you have accomplished and give yourself praise for it or treat yourself to something as a reward.
  • Be proud of your achievement and effort.
  • What did you learn from it? What do you take away from this challenge?

… our children

  • Praise your child for the effort and what they have accomplished.
  • Praise ability and effort.
  • If possible, do not emphasize any personality traits.


For yourself

  • Be honest and objective with yourself as much as possible
  • Enjoy the success
  • Don’t be overly critical of yourself, but don’t be too indulgent either
  • Don’t make comparisons to others

For our children

  • Praise your child for what they have achieved and actually achieved. Regardless of whether it was a success or not.
  • Don’t be overly critical and don’t praise something that your child hasn’t actually achieved. So, no exaggerations, we parents do that often enough unconsciously anyway.
  • Do not draw comparisons to other children or even siblings.


For yourself

  • Don’t tell yourself that you’re not good at something because you’re a woman or a man. Try to put aside traditional prejudices. Be aware of your biases as much as possible. Prejudices and statistics say nothing about the ability of the individual.

For our children

  • Try to let go of prejudice. That may sound simple, but certain opinions have unconsciously anchored themselves in us. Try not to pass these on to your children. “You don’t have to be able to do that, you’re a boy” or “But as a girl, you should be able to do that” really has no place in any education.


For yourself

  • Set yourself challenging goals. Not too light and not too heavy.

For our children

  • Try to set goals together with your child that are challenging but still doable.


For yourself

  • Think about what expectations you have of completing a task and what expectations you have of the goal. Try to match those expectations to your abilities. What is actually possible?
  • Dare
  • Analyze the necessary intermediate steps and adapt them according to your expectations

For our children

  • Above all, your expectations of your child should be age-appropriate. Expectations that are too high only create unnecessary pressure and if they fail, they have a negative effect on self-esteem. But trust your child to do something. 
  • Don’t take anything from your child that they could possibly do themselves


For yourself

  • Try to deal with failure constructively
  • What should or could be different next time? Does it take more effort, or was the task far too difficult?

For our children

  • Explain to your child what went wrong and work out alternatives together. How could things go better next time?
  • Be a role model for your child in dealing with failure
  • Give comfort

Value of the goal

For yourself

  • Set rewarding goals. If the goal is worth it to you, try harder. Your own performance promotes self-esteem, and that has a motivating effect. This makes you try harder, and that usually leads to success.

For our children

  • Find goals for your child that are rewarding for your child in some way. Couldn’t it do that itself, or just not in a certain area? Help him/ her with this. If the value of the goal is large enough, your child will try harder. Their own performance has a motivating effect, so your child will invest even more effort. This often leads to success. Give extra praise for small intermediate steps. Otherwise, the way to the goal can be too long for small children.

Other people

For yourself

  • If you notice that you keep getting confirmation from outside, question why this is so. You yourself have done a job of which you can be proud. And you’ve accomplished goals that were important to you and hopefully rewarding.

For our children

  • The self-esteem of our children is also often dependent on outside reference persons, such as teachers.
  • If necessary, explain to your child the misconduct of these people and explain what is wrong with them in an age-appropriate way. In this case, encourage/praise your child that the other caregiver is not doing it, also specifically in this area outside the family.


For yourself

  • Become aware of the experiences you have made in relation to your self-worth from your childhood. Sounds cliché, I know. But the foundation of your self-worth was laid in your childhood. If your self-esteem is rather low, it might be worth looking for clues. If you know the cause, you can do something about it. And often it is these unconscious beliefs that we often heard in our childhood and attacked our self-esteem.

For our children

  • This is where the foundations of your child’s self-esteem are laid. Make sure that this is not lost in the often stressful everyday life.

Searching for help

For yourself

  • Get help if you can’t do something on your own. Many goals are easier to achieve together. 
  • Everyone should do, what he/ she can do best. There is also a wonderful learning effect.

For our children

  • If your child needs help, try to support them appropriately or organize help for your child.
  • Helping does not mean accepting everything, but rather working together to achieve the goal.
  • Everyone should do, what he/ she can do best. There is also a wonderful learning effect.

Why do we need good self-esteem?

Good general self-esteem is essential. Strong self-esteem makes it much easier for us to steer our lives in ways that correspond to our ideas. If we trust in our own abilities, we can lead a self-determined life and cope more easily with challenges, and failures, but also with crises.

With good and healthy self-esteem, we also tackle the goals that we want to achieve ourselves. We shouldn’t underestimate ourselves, but we shouldn’t overestimate ourselves either. Of course, that could happen. But even if we don’t succeed in a task, we can emerge stronger with good self-esteem and, ideally, learn something from it. Sometimes just about ourselves and our own limits.

We omit a lot because of low self-esteem. We don’t trust ourselves and don’t think we can do plenty of things ourselves. As a result, we are worth nothing to ourselves as human beings. This is a very dangerous view. In the worst case, this view leads to depression, which can have serious consequences.

Conclusion about self-esteem

A strong sense of self-esteem is essential for the successful completion of our careers. Regardless of whether it is at school, at work, or in the private sphere. We have the power to build our self-worth. We can also support our children in developing strong self-esteem. Don’t let the chance pass by!

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