As a teacher, it’s kind of heartbreaking when a child doesn’t seem to believe in himself. But when it’s my own kiddo, it’s even worse! My oldest child was born believing in herself. She has never met a problem she didn’t face with fierce determination. One of her earliest statements was “I do it myself!”
But my little boy needs lots of encouragement to try something new or master a new skill. I’m learning how to build his self esteem, so he can keep trying when confronted with challenges. Here are some parenting tips and meaningful self esteem activities for kids and teens. I am using lots of these strategies with him!
Tips for Building Self Esteem in Kids and Teens
Self esteem activities for kids and teens are great, but they aren’t much help if our messaging is consistently “off.” You can purchase printables, workbooks, journals and more to support a child’s self esteem. But consistent parenting and teaching strategies that build self esteem over time will be much more powerful.
Look for small opportunities to encourage independence.
Independence fosters self-esteem. Some kids have a fierce independent streak from birth, like my oldest. For kids who prefer to have a parent do everything for them, self esteem is slower growing. So how can we nurture a desire for independence? Frequent, small wins! From an early age, teach your child to:
- Dress himself
- Clean up their own messes
- Make a PB&J for themselves
- Set out their own school clothes before bed
- Do their own laundry
- Help load the dishwasher
- Wake up to an alarm and get their day started alone
- Make their bed
- Review their own missed math problems and find their own errors
Need to teach your kids to clean up after themselves? I’ve got a trick that makes this WAY easier!
These life skills might not seem particularly important, but over time, they develop self esteem that comes from knowing they are capable.
Stop solving all their problems.
This one can be so hard, especially when our kiddo’s feelings get involved. My daughter’s school year was off to a great start, and she came home talking about lots of different friends. Over time, all those names became replaced by a single name. This little girl was her new best friend, but I wasn’t too happy about it.
It started with her requiring my daughter to give away part of her lunch in order to preserve the friendship. This little girl would say, “If you don’t give me some of your ice cream, we’re not best friends anymore.”
It got worse. One day, she was super nice, and the next she’d be mean to her. My daughter started being mean back to show her how it felt. We had lots of conversations about turning the other cheek and finding new friends.
To be honest, it has been a great springboard for hard conversations about our family faith, friendship, and being true to ourselves. But she’s STILL feeling obligated to be this little girl’s friend. She tells me, “She won’t let me pick new friends or invite other kids to play.”
My husband and I were discussing it last night. We (very) briefly considered talking with the administration and requesting that she not be placed with this little girl.
However, we quickly decided against it. Dealing with mean friends, bullies, and even bad influences are all part of growing up. If we knock down this obstacle for her, how will she ever gain the confidence and self esteem that comes from having great social skills?
Instead, we want to coach her to conquer this obstacle all by herself, so she’ll be ready the next time someone’s not nice.
She CAN solve this problem, and to solve it for her sends the message that she can’t take care of herself.
Praise effort and process, but don’t overdo it.
Words of praise is my own love language, so shelling it out for my kids comes naturally. But I’ve noticed a big drawback – they aren’t often satisfied with their own achievements and come asking me for affirmation.
“Is this pretty, Mama?”
“Did I do a good job?”
I have to turn the tables on them, and ask, “Well? Do you like it? Then that’s all that matters!”
Be careful not to be TOO heavy with your affirmations if you want kids to look inward for satisfaction and self esteem.
Also, be most heavy-handed with praise that’s directed at effort, character, persistence, and risk-taking. Try comments like this:
- Wow! You worked on that project for such a long time! You must be proud of how it turned out.
- I’m amazed that you kept working on that puzzle, even when you got stuck.
- I love that you showed so much kindness to your new classmate. You’re a great friend.
- Even though you didn’t score a goal, I noticed that you REALLY hustled out there and worked hard. I know your coach is proud of your effort.
Differentiate between guilt and shame.
Part of having self-confidence is believing that you are a fundamentally good person. We need to be careful when we discipline our children that we aren’t inducing shame.
The difference is subtle, but I would articulate it this way:
We feel guilt when we believe we did a bad thing.
We feel shame when we believe we are bad people.
There are no bad kids – only bad choices. Send that message loud and clear, and be careful with your tone when issuing consequences or having hard conversations.
De-stigmatize loss and failure.
Losing is no big deal. Failure isn’t either; it’s just an opportunity for reflection, improvement and growth. Learn more about having a growth mindset so you can model it for your kids. It sounds like this when an adult speaks from a growth mindset:
- “I’m not a real writer YET, but I’m trying really hard to get better.”
- “Bummer. My tomato plant didn’t produce this year. I’m gonna learn more about it, and then we’ll try again next year with a different variety!”
- Wow. Sorry dinner was kinda gross tonight, guys. The next time I want Italian food, I’ll try a different recipe!
We’re not all naturally gifted at art. Some of us suck at math. Some of us are never going to be great at sports. My daughter is probably not going to be a star athlete.
If we can celebrate our gifts, we can laugh at weaknesses. No one is great at everything, so there’s no need to make a big deal out of stuff we’re bad at.
Speak life-giving words to your kids.
Pay attention to how much negativity is coming from your mouth. It drives me absolutely crazy that my daughter is messy. She leaves stuff everywhere! I’m having a hard time moving past it.
If I commented every time she left a mess behind, there wouldn’t be room for any celebrations, praise or kindness. So instead, I’m working on different tidying strategies to help her out. I’m trying very hard to counterbalance my criticism with words of gratitude for the things that make her awesome.
Want to teach some scripture memory to your kids? Here are some kid-friendly memory verses (with a free printable included).
Quit trying to make them someone they’re not.
If you’re a great reader and former valedictorian, you may be really confused when your kid seems pretty disinterested in school. Don’t be so caught up in who you WISH they were that you miss out on their gifts. If they’re great at sports and a natural leader on the team, recognize that gift (out loud) and quit wishing your child was someone different.
Have big celebrations for even small victories.
When your child takes a risk, tries something new, or persists in the face of an obstacle, CELEBRATE.
Right now, we are working with my 3 year old on dressing himself. He has ZERO desire to do it himself. But we’ve got a sticker chart going, and as soon as he dresses himself 6 times, we’re going out for a family ice cream treat to celebrate his hard work!
When my daughter was learning to ride a bike, she was WAY too scared. She’s naturally pretty cautious, and all it took was one skinned knee to set her back a couple of months. When she decided to try again, you better believe I made a BIG deal out of it!
Want to teach your kid to do something scary, like learning to ride a bike? I’ve got a post about that!
Adopt a family identity statement.
Try these on for size:
- The Turners keep trying.
- The Hernandez family knows how to hustle.
- The Kimballs are always kind.
- The Garcias do great things.
- The Patels persist.
If your child hears these family value statements often enough, it becomes a part of their identity.
Speak often about your own goals, and model risk-taking and effort.
I talk to my oldest about my blog. It’s my side hustle, and it’s a risky gamble. I’m putting tons of hours into it, and the payoff isn’t there YET. In fact, it’s quite a long way from being a profitable gig.
I talk to her about my goals and hopes and dreams all the time. I want her to see me take risks, and get up early in the morning to work on it. I want her to see me sacrifice other things in the pursuit of something that matters to me.
She hears me say YET a lot.
Self Esteem Activities for Kids and Teens
Enough tips! Let’s dig into these fun self esteem activities for kids and teenagers.
Introduce little kids to some self esteem building books.
Giraffes Can’t Dance is one of my favorites. It’s about Gerald, a giraffe who thinks he’s a bad dancer. One little moonlight jig cures him of his self-esteem problem!
This is a sweet little book about the number zero, who wishes (quite literally) that she didn’t have an empty hole in the middle, and that she had VALUE like the other numbers. She tries to change, but she just can’t. This is an empowering little book that encourages kids to be themselves.
Here’s a game that you can bust out any time you need self esteem activities for kids. It’s a winner with family therapists, because it involves cognitive therapy, cooperation and problem solving skills. The questions kids must answer work on self esteem.
Big Life Journal
Big Life Journal has a self esteem and confidence kit that I think is incredible! It’s a PDF download, so you just pay and then print! This could be a fantastic summer time choice if you’re looking for self esteem activities for kids and teens.
Add positive affirmations into your nighttime or morning routine.
Positive affirmations can make a huge difference over time if done correctly. Here is a free printable with almost 50 positive affirmation coloring pages!
Create SMART goals together.
SMART goals are the following:
Specific: “I’ll get healthier” isn’t specific enough. Instead, try “I’m going to become a better runner.”
Measurable: Instead of “become a better runner,” improve this by saying, “I’ll be able to run a marathon.” That’s measurable.
Achievable (yet): Is this doable for you? If not, try to pick something you CAN do with enough hard work. If you can’t yet run a mile, maybe a marathon is too ambitious! How about this: “I’ll be able to run a 5K.”
Relevant: Is this something that will improve your life for the better? Is it relevant, or silly and uninspiring? Watching 100 movies might meet all the criteria above, but if it doesn’t get you where you’re trying to go, what’s the point?
Time–sensitive: You need a deadline! Add a time limit to the goal.
Your final result might sound like this: “I’m going to be able to run a 5K by October 31st.”
Sometimes, the best self esteem activities for kids don’t require purchasing anything at all
SMART goals are great for kids, because they learn the life-long skill of goal setting. Also, realistic yet relevant goals give them opportunities for wins which will build self-esteem over time.
The Totum Feel Good Game
Here’s another great game that’s loved by counselors, and it’s for ages 8 and older.
Have a Growing Party for each kid on their half birthday.
You don’t need guests, a party venue, or even gifts. Think low-key, meaningful, and non-commercialized goodness.
Cook their favorite food, bake a yummy dessert, and put on music they love.
This night is all about your growing kid, who is learning to do new, fun things! So cook their favorite foods and put on some music they love.
Decorate with their accomplishments and positive qualities.
Make a homemade, construction paper and twine banner to hang on the mantle that includes their accomplishments and positive qualities. It might say, “Most improved tennis player!” “Kindest family member,” “Growing in faith and courage,” and so on. Tie balloons to their chair (even if they’re 16 and rolling their eyes at you).
Have a compliment circle at dinner time.
Have each member of the family tell your growing kid something they love about him or her. Even if it feels cheesy, your kid will secretly love it! Who doesn’t need to hear some encouragement once in a while?
Encourage serving in the community.
One of the quickest ways to raise a person’s self esteem is to get them involved in something beyond their own needs and desires. When we serve other people, particularly in a way that feels unique to our own identities, it helps us mature and gain confidence.
Here are some examples:
- An animal loving middle schooler could get a weekly volunteer job walking dogs at the animal shelter.
- A nature-inspired little kid can grow a wildflower garden with a parent, and start bringing bouquets to nursing homes.
- A high school student who loves to read can tutor at-risk elementary school kids for free.
- A Christian student who loves babies can help out in the church nursery once a month.
Many families struggle with being way too busy. When we’re too busy, we don’t have the margin to serve where we are needed. Talk to your kid about how great it feels to serve, and see if there’s something you can cut from the schedule in order to make it happen.
Help them with their appearance while recognizing that inner beauty matters most.
We all know that inner beauty matters most, and we want to cultivate that in our kids. But the truth is, MOST of us don’t feel great about ourselves if we’re not comfortable in our own skin.
Listen to your child’s concerns about his or her appearance, and do whatever it takes to help. If your kid is upset about acne, help him or her find a solution that works instead of just encouraging them to ignore the problem. If a kid is upset about being overweight and looking for help, offer to exercise with them and find out if they want to try eating healthier at the table together.
We want our kids to love themselves just the way God made them, but wanting to feel attractive, clean and healthy is totally normal.
Activities to Promote Self Esteem in the Classroom
If you’re looking to improve your students’ self esteem, that’s a really wonderful idea! Kids who feel great about themselves are happier and higher achieving. Here are some of my favorite confidence boosters.
Will. I. Am’s “What I Am”
If you teach Pre-K – 3rd, you need this video in your rotation! We watch it before big tests and important events. It pumps the kids up, and it’s a great conversation starter about what makes each of us special. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t have anything to do with test scores.
I love this little activity! It’s so simple.
- Each kid gets a neon card stock paper and a black marker. They write their name large in the middle.
- The papers get passed around the room, and each student writes something kind about the person whose name is on the page. I like to set timers to keep them focused, and put on thinking music.
- At the end, each student will have a positive comment about themselves from every kid in the class.
Here are some ways to make sure this activity is effective:
- Don’t begin until you emphasize the importance of making positive comments about inner qualities rather than external stuff. Explain to them that “You always make sure people get included,” is a more meaningful compliment than “I like your shoes.”
- Before the paper makes its way back to the original owner, collect them all for review. Look for papers that are sparse, with lots of repeated, generic compliments. If anyone’s compliment paper makes you feel sad, you can pass it around to all the teachers and anonymously write kind comments.
- Consider laminating them before passing them back out.
Teach SMART goals, and check-in regularly.
Kids are motivated by SMART goals. They really do work. Set classroom goals with your students, and regularly check in on their progress. Help them notice what’s working well for them, and reflect on ways to improve. Here are some great SMART goals for the classroom:
- Raise my math benchmark average score by 5 points by the 3rd 9 weeks.
- Write a five paragraph essay that I can read aloud to the class by winter break.
- Participate in the next pep rally in November by meeting the school’s behavior criteria.
Pull small groups regularly.
If you’re a lower performing student, there’s nothing more defeating than never being able to access the classwork and demonstrate mastery. Most whole group work is targeted at the top 30-40% of students, so kids who come into the classroom well below grade level never feel successful outside of small groups.
Have small groups often, and pull groups at every level regularly. When kids are grouped by current ability and are presented with work they can access, it helps them have enough confidence to take risks.
Get kids the help they need, and quit avoiding hard conversations.
So often, we avoid hard conversations with parents, even when we strongly suspect their child needs support services.
Some kids need to be retained a single time in kindergarten. Others desperately need support for dyslexia, ADHD, behavioral interventions or SPED support. Ask any teacher who has been working for at least a few years, and they’ll have a bad memory of a parent conversation about interventions that didn’t go well.
Practice having hard conversations, and make sure you’re following the laws and campus guidelines. Take the time to role play with a fellow teacher or administrator to make sure you’re comfortable with what you have to say. But whatever you do, never keep silent about a child’s well being to avoid a painful conversation.
Teach Gardner’s 8 Forms of Intelligence
You know about multiple intelligences from your training. But do your kids know them? This “All the Ways to Be Smart” book is a kid-friendly way to celebrate ALL the forms of intelligence. Start the year off right by letting the kids know that you see their unique gifts.
Build community with restorative circles.
Kids who feel like part of a supportive community don’t struggle so much with self confidence problems. Kids who have meaningful friendships tend to thrive. Restorative circles was a game changer for my classroom.
Yes, it took 20 minutes a week, and it was hard to justify spending that time, especially as we got closer to testing season. Our campus is not one that can be frivolous with wasted time, and still have success on our testing. Every minute counts.
That said, I believe restorative circles saved me time in the long run. Our homeroom class rarely bickered, or wasted time on stupid drama. They genuinely liked each other and felt connected to one another. Kids were able to focus on their work because they felt loved and supported by their peers. That’s a self-esteem booster!
The best self esteem activities for kids and teenagers aren’t one-time events, but rather ongoing practices that build relationships and confidence over time.