The Gift of You: How to Build Confidence and Self-Esteem in Children

Help the children in your care develop a positive sense of self-worth

Confidence and good self-esteem are two of the greatest gifts you can bestow upon a young child. Having faith in your abilities fosters a healthy form of independence and a willingness to engage in unfamiliar situations or to connect with new people without the hindrance of fear or doubt. Being comfortable with who you are and your place in the world can lead to a lifetime of academic, personal, and professional success.

As adults who spend a lot of time with small children and are familiar with social and emotional development, caregivers are in an ideal position to teach confidence and self-esteem to the children in their care.

Fostering a positive sense of self-worth is a great responsibility and a huge challenge for caregivers. However, helping children feel good about themselves prepares them to go out into the world, contribute to their community, work toward their goals, and forge valuable connections with others.

The value of self-worth

A sense of self starts early in life; a baby looks to their caregivers for cues about how and when people respond to their needs.

In the beginning, paying attention to the unique needs of each baby as an individual can help form their feelings of having a specific identity, and that identity is worthy of recognition. As they grow older, consider the following suggestions to help establish a positive view of self-worth:

  • Provide choices: Show the children in your care that you trust their judgment and value their opinion by empowering them to make choices whenever it is practical and possible. From deciding on which center they can play at to taking turns choosing a book for story time, these small concessions on the part of an adult allow a child to feel recognized and understood.
  • Let them try: Sure, everything can take longer when you let a young child attempt a new skill without help but trying – and failing – can help develop a sense of independence and teach the importance of persistence. Ask children to help set out or put away materials, or encourage them to hang their coats or backpacks up as they arrive. Small successes result in a can-do attitude.
  • Honest feedback: Praise is important, so catch a child being good and point it out with appreciation and gratitude. However, understanding that making mistakes is a normal part of growth is also essential. Learning how to process small setbacks or failures is a gentle and supportive way to teach resilience. Make sure the children in your care know that perfection isn’t expected and doesn’t affect their worth.
  • Teach integrity: Although it’s a big concept for little people, a foundational understanding of integrity and how to realize it can serve children well for a lifetime. Teach children to be honest, model how and when to apologize, demonstrate kindness and compassion, and help them learn manners. Living a good life goes a long way toward believing in who you are and how you fit into the world.

When you spend a lot of time around children, it’s easy to see the unique qualities that make each one lovable and valued. It’s slightly more challenging to make them recognize those traits in themselves, but it’s one of the most important jobs you can do as an influential adult in their lives. Treat the children in your care as respected individuals and help them grow long-lasting confidence and self-esteem.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.

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