As parents we talk about our children’s self-esteem such a lot, but do we really know what it means? In this article I will demystify children’s self-esteem. I’ll take you through three of my favourite self esteem games for kids, which I have tried and tested in my child psychology clinic, Everlief.
Why Is Children’s Self-Esteem Important?
Self-esteem is an important topic for all parents to understand. It can feel quite “woolly” and overwhelming. Yet high self-esteem is a vital protective factor for mental health. Every parent should know strategies to support a healthy sense of self-esteem in their child.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is your positive sense of self, that helps you feel good about yourself in the face of criticism or knock-backs, and enables you to function effectively in the real world. It’s essential for a happy life. Strong is particularly crucial towards the end of the primary school years and in the first couple of years of secondary school or middle school.
This stage of life (moving into adolescence) and the secondary school transition, when combined, can create a perfect storm. Children need strong self-esteem to cope and thrive through this period.
But it’s never too early to start building your child’s self-esteem. Young children should be exposed to regular opportunities to learn about optimism, resilience and feeling competent. This will go a long way to building a strong foundation for happiness and positive mental health in later life.
What Are the Signs of Low Self-Esteem in a Child?
- A fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset.
- Negative self-talk.
- Avoiding activities because they don’t think they will be able to do them.
- Not wanting to try new skills.
- Not speaking up or volunteering even when they know the answer.
- Lack of confidence in social situations.
- High sensitivity. For example, taking a throwaway comment personally or ruminating on it.
- Intense jealousy or negative feelings about peers, siblings or friends who seem confident and successful.
How Can I Fix My Child’s Self-Esteem?
Firstly, understand what makes up self-esteem: optimism, resilience and a sense of competence. You can read more about this below.
Secondly, introduce some fun self-esteem activities and games into your everyday family life. Healthy self-esteem doesn’t come overnight. You need to be persistent and practise regularly.
Thirdly, cultivate a growth mindset in your child. Work on your own growth mindset at the same time if you need to, so you can set a good example by sharing a positive outlook with them.
Fourthly, consider anything in your child’s environment that is affecting their confidence levels. For example, is your child doing extracurricular activities that are actually building their self-esteem? Perhaps some tweaks could be made. For instance, perhaps it’s better for your child do be at the top of the intermediate group in their dance class and act as a role model to others, rather than floundering and struggling in the advanced class.
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The Three Layers of Self-Esteem
The three layers that make up children’s self-esteem are: Sense of competence, optimism and resilience. If your child has all three, they will have a high level of self-esteem and will be significantly less likely to experience poor mental health. You can read more about the three layers of children’s self-esteem in this article.
Three Easy Self-Esteem Games for Kids
1. The Optimism Game
Thinking differently really does change the way your brain is wired. Negative thoughts create a negative cycle, which can result in your child developing negative core beliefs. Negative core beliefs are the fundamental beliefs we hold about ourselves. Negative core beliefs might be “I’m unlovable”, “I’m a bad person” or “I’m stupid”. Beliefs like this have a potent negative impact on your child’s confidence. They permeate every area of your child’s life, affecting friendships, school achievements, hobbies and family interactions.
Thinking like an optimist from a young age makes us more likely to feel optimistic generally. Optimists also have better physical and psychological health. So if your family are not currently optimists, have a bit of fun and “fake it til you make it”!
This self-esteem game is designed for the whole family. You can also use it in schools or other group settings. As self-esteem activities go, this fun game is one of the most powerful and gets great feedback from the families I recommend it to.
First, on a white board or large piece of paper (that you can stick on the wall), write each member of the family’s name. Then, agree as a family that you will make it your mission to develop more optimism.
Members of the family score a point for making an optimistic comment or showing optimism. Ten points gets you a special treat, agreed in advance, which can be different for everybody.
Optimism is infectious. If you do this self-esteem activity regularly you will find that all family members become much more aware of any unhelpful negative thinking patterns. Your child’s self-esteem will soar and you’ll find that they naturally start to reframe difficult situations or outcomes.
There are many different ways you can personalise the optimism game to your family. For example, how about awarding bonus points when your child makes an optimistic remark to support another family member? This will improve your child’s social skills, in particular empathy and awareness of others.
2. Resilience Roadmap
Resilience is probably the most important element of self-esteem. You can read about it in more depth and learn lots of useful ideas in this article, but this fun exercise will be a great starting point:
The object of the Resilience Roadmap is to have a whole-family discussion. Together, you will highlight multiple times when each member of the family has shown resilience. Then you will reflect on how they did it.
What skills and personal qualities did they use?
By making a visual like the one below on a sheet of paper, children will be able to draw on some of the same skills and qualities the next time they face a challenge or a setback. This is a great way to gradually build positive self-esteem.
Here are some examples to use as a basis for discussion.
- A time something got cancelled that I was really looking forward to.
- When someone I thought was a friend turned out not to be.
- When I “failed” at something.
- A time when I didn’t get something I really wanted.
- A time when I was treated unfairly.
- When I was terrified but I did the thing I was terrified of anyway.
3. Competence Ladder
Good self-esteem requires your child to have some areas they feel a sense of competence in. It doesn’t matter if your child is not particularly academic, or into team sports, or musical. Everybody has something, but children may need this pointing out specifically.
The competence ladder is a great activity to help you think outside the box. What special skills or character strengths can you highlight that will lead to positive self-image? Children of all ages can take part in this activity.
Create a competence ladder with your child to show that nobody is good at everything, and that everybody is good at something. If your child’s self-esteem is very low, consider trying activities where your child doesn’t have to compete against others, such as crochet or knitting, coding, story-writing or martial arts.
Confident children know their strengths and can see their unique capabilities in a positive light. They get positive reinforcement through being competent in their specialist area.
Read our article about emotional and behavioural strengths, to get started on identifying your child’s positive traits.
You can also show that you can get better at most things and they will move up the ladder. Simply create a poster of a ladder, and spend time personalising it to your child. Make your own ladder at the same time, to model your own range of competencies.
In the example above, you can see that the child does not feel very good at maths, but they feel competent in creative writing and digital art. This can stimulate a useful discussion on many topics, such as:
- What would increase my confidence in my maths abilities?
- How does digital art make me feel good about myself?
- Which activities do I want to focus on in the next few months, to grow my confidence?
With older children, be cautious about their use of social media. Bombardment with impossibly perfect images of other people’s lives or personal criticisms of people’s life choices or appearance can create complex negative feelings. Too much time on social media can skew your child’s view of the world and negatively impact their sense of self-worth.
Try not to let your child completely avoid activities they think they’re weaker at. Help them persist and find their own niche. For example, your child may assume that physical activity is “not their thing” because they are not sporty in the traditional sense. Yet physical activity is so important to wellbeing. Rather than allow your child to become sedentary, why not try some different physical activities that are a better fit with your child’s interests? For example, if your child is interested in nature, why not try nature hunts, camping or gardening?
Self-Esteem Games for Kids: Summary
I hope you have found these three self-esteem games for kids have sparked your imagination! Each of these confidence-building activities will build your child’s optimism, resilience and sense of competence. These three areas make up overall self-esteem.
Building self-esteem takes time. Don’t expect overnight change. Persistence, consistency and fun are the best ways to build self-esteem.
Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years.
In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children. Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.
Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.
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