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I Think I Can! I Think I Can! Nurturing Children's Self-Esteem

Posted by on in What If?
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Probably one of the best predictors of a child’s success in life is strong self-confidence and self-esteem. They will set high goals for themselves and believe they can achieve anything they set their minds to. This is an outcome we all want for our children, but for some, it may not come so easy. High self-esteem is acquired and is not genetic. It is built a little at a time through their relationships with adults and other children. Life environments vary and support for self-worth and confidence does, too. Children living with trauma, for example, can be devoid of any support at all. A child who lacks confidence and a positive self-image may need an extra boost… or two or three. We can be intentional in providing support as we go through the day.


1. Give her some responsibilities and expect follow through. When a job is completed successfully, she will feel more confident and happy with herself. She will also have some good practice with her problem-solving skills. Our responsibility in all of this is to lavish encouragement and always praise her for doing such a good job.

2. Let her make her own decisions. Provide age-appropriate choices whenever possible. These can be simple- like choosing between putting away the dishes or the dolls at clean-up time. Allowing her to decide something for herself strengthens her confidence and sets the foundation for the times she’ll need to make more complex choices in the future.

3. Make sure the goals you set are realistic. Decide along with the child what the goals will be and ensure they are achievable. Confidence in herself will only be built if she can reach them.

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4. Allow her to develop some independence. Doing things on her own successfully will stoke her confidence. Encourage her to interact with new friends, try new things, and take calculated risks now and then.

5. Point out her strengths and support her weaknesses. A child will feel empowered when someone focuses on her talents and best attributes. Of course, there will be disappointments and shortcomings, but help her look at the bright side of things. (e.g. “You couldn’t do that big puzzle, but you are so good at that game I played with you this morning!”) It’s important to let her know that nobody’s perfect, but everybody can do some things perfectly.


6. Don’t always jump in to rescue her. Remember… feeling capable only comes from solving problems on her own. It’s important to be patient. Sure, tying her shoes for her goes a lot quicker, but she gains nothing from that. Every new challenge she tackles will add to her confidence.

7. Try to encourage her talents. Pay attention to what she already does well and build on that. If she’s good at art, provide opportunities for her to engage in her talents as much as possible. Also, be sure to acknowledge her in front of others. That being said, don’t go overboard. Children can recognize phony praise. So, instead of generalizing your comments about what she’s done (“That’s so beautiful!), give her very specific feedback (“I really like the way you made the lady’s hat!”) She’ll know you’re really tuned in and noticing only HER work. And, that feels fantastic!

8. Help her learn to think positively. When she is optimistic, she will be self-confident. If a child believes she has the power to make something happen, chances are she will succeed. She will also learn that she doesn’t always need to depend on other people, but can count on her own ideas and efforts.


9. Give her opportunities to help others. When you encourage children to offer their energy and assistance, they learn that they are important and needed. When she helps other people feel good, she will feel good about herself, too.

reassurance seeking photo

10. Provide reassurance of your unconditional love and acceptance. When children know adults are there for them- just as they are- they have what they need to grow into confident and self-assured adults.

Every child is worth the effort it takes to implement these strategies in the context of everyday activities. For most children, it will make a difference. For some children, it will make all the difference in the world.

I think I can

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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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Guest Monday, 24 June 2019