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How Do I Build My Daughter's Self-Esteem?

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

How can I help my daughter raise her self-esteem? My daughter is in gifted program in school and has been making all A's in the class. She's not very outgoing type, sometimes very shy toward new environment but loves reading and could become very talkative toward very close friends. What really worries me is that she has very little self-confidence. I truly believe she has the ability to excel if only she could feel better toward herself. She does have hard time speaking in front of her peers and teacher. How can I help her with her self-confidence? I talked to her teacher and she said my daughter tends to be shy and sometimes not very focused (and forgetful) during the class activities. Do you think this could have something to do with her low self-esteem? What can I do to help her with that problem?

Answer:

Having adequate self-esteem is an important aspect of children's well-being, and you are wise to pay attention to this issue now. Lack of self-esteem in adolescence has been associated with a number of troubles, including poor academic performance, delinquency, substance abuse, and depression. I'd suggest a visit to your child's pediatrician or school psychologist.

On the other hand, too much self-esteem can have a negative effect: children with superior views of themselves are frequently rejected or disliked by their peers, who feel belittled or inconsequential. So, as with most things in life, moderation is key with efforts to enhance your child's self-esteem. Here are some tips for what to do and what not to do:

Help your daughter identify areas in which she feels competent. You mentioned that she loves reading and earns good grades; have her keep a perpetual list of books she has read. Adding to the list by setting goals for reading can be a rewarding experience. What else does she enjoy, and in what other areas is she successful? Try to encourage your daughter to identify these areas without your prompts, unless she draws a complete blank. Possibilities include athletics gardening, music, social activities, art, cooking, cleaning, scrapbooking, etc. Children feel the best when they perform well in activities that are important to them.

Provide opportunities for emotional and social support. Studies have shown that feeling supported and accepted contribute to positive self-esteem throughout the lifespan. Support needs to come not only from family members/parents, but also from other adults in your daughter's life and from her peers. Does she have a favorite aunt or family friend with whom she can spend time? You mentioned that she is talkative with close friends; make sure she has ample opportunities to spend time with them Consider classes for children her age at the local recreation center, sleepovers, "play" dates, or local youth groups. If she is too shy to go on her own, have her join with a friend or classmate.

Teach her to problem-solve and cope with frustration. Self-esteem is boosted whenever we face problems and deal with them, rather than avoiding them. As a parent, you can easily model that for her - make sure she sees you coping well with minor frustrations and solving problems that come up on a day-to-day basis. If children learn positive coping skills, they are more likely to face new problems realistically and nondefensively.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

06/8/2009:
"I loved this article, my daughter is also in the gifted program. She came home the other day and told me they are allowing other children into the gifted program for different reasons than her own, and the class has turned into quite the 'circus'. The 'new' children are very 'hyper' and disruptive in the class and really frustrating the gifted teacher (who is a real sweetheart) What should we do? thank you!"
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