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How to Build Confidence and Self-Esteem in Children

Learn how to build confidence in children by incorporating activities that boost self-esteem.

How to Build Confidence and Self-Esteem in Children

How to Build Confidence in Children

Confidence and self-esteem play an essential role in a child's ability to take on the world bravely. Life can be stressful and competitive, so it’s important for educators and families to pour into children, encouraging and guiding them through life's trials, challenges, and mistakes. As an educator, you can help your children develop confidence and self-esteem by motivating them and instilling positivity, ultimately empowering them to lead happy lives. 

This article will discuss the differences between self-confidence and self-esteem, why they're important, the causes and signs of low confidence and self-esteem, and what early childhood education activities can help build both.

What's the difference between confidence and self-esteem?

Let's start by breaking down the differences between confidence and self-esteem. Confidence refers to someone's attitude about their skills and capabilities. People with high self-confidence often feel they have a good grasp on their lives. Self-esteem refers to how a person perceives their self-worth and value. A person's high self-esteem is typically reflected in their ability to entertain different ideas and comfortably socialize.

two young children glue animal photos onto a map of the world hanging on a wall while their teacher watches


Confidence is evident in how someone carries themselves and develops over time—from their accomplishments to mastering a particular skill set. It's a quality that others are likely to notice in a person, despite how that person may feel about themself. On the other hand, self-esteem isn't visible to others. It's internalized and doesn't come from accomplishments or skill development. Instead, it's attributed to how a child is raised and what beliefs and values are instilled in them. Self-esteem is the way they think and feel about themselves.  

Although there's a difference between confidence and self-esteem, they do overlap, and both are extremely important to children and their growth. 

Why are self-esteem and confidence important? 

People often tell children they can accomplish anything they put their minds to—that they only need to believe in themselves. Part of this logic requires confidence and self-esteem to accomplish success and establish resilience. Building self-esteem is important because it motivates children, whether they are at their highest or lowest. It also influences their outlook and ability to navigate through life. Self-esteem directly connects to a child’s well-being, thoughts, and ability to socialize. 

Confidence is critical because it equips children for life’s experiences. It also influences how they respond to their problems, failures, and obstacles. A lack of confidence can limit a child's potential and may negatively impact them socially, academically, and professionally.

What causes low self-esteem?

Several factors contribute to low self-esteem. For instance, a lack of support or constant criticism from parents or caregivers can make children less likely to feel motivated because they don't have a support system. This makes them question themselves and their importance. Comparison can also play a part in lowering a child's self-esteem. Constant comparisons to their peers or siblings can make them feel inferior or inadequate. Additionally, a lack of love or acknowledgment of their worth or value can damage their self-esteem. Children’s self-esteem is also lowered when caregivers or teachers overreact to their mistakes or failures.  

The factors contributing to low confidence can vary, from genes and cultural background to childhood and life experiences. What children go through and how adults and peers treat them can alter how they view themselves and their confidence level. For example, bullying and harassment can dampen a child's confidence. Race, gender, and sexual orientation can also make a difference—some children may internalize pain and fear due to discrimination and ostracization.

What are some signs of low self-esteem?

You know what causes low confidence and self-esteem, but how do you identify these signs in children? To help, you must first understand that something is wrong. Some signs of low self-esteem include:

  • Negatively speaking about or being overly critical of themselves 
  • Focusing on the negatives while ignoring their achievements
  • Constantly blaming themselves when things go wrong
  • Not being able to accept compliments
  • Avoiding challenges for fear of failing
  • Feeling sad, anxious, ashamed, depressed, angry, or worthless
  • Thinking their peers are better than they 
  • Being overly upset by criticism or disapproval

Because self-esteem and confidence are closely related, the signs can be similar and sometimes the same. Some indications of low confidence include:

  • Having feelings of self-doubt
  • Displaying passive or submissive behavior
  • Having a hard time trusting others
  • Feeling like they're inferior to others
  • Being overly sensitive to criticism
  • Having feelings of being unloved
  • Withdrawing socially and isolating themselves in social settings

Confidence building activities

In addition to watching for signs of low self-esteem, you can incorporate specific approaches in your classroom to help children develop confidence. For example, early education programs that incorporate a whole child approach go beyond academic progress and focus on building a child’s character and supporting their full identity, including nurturing their self-esteem. Exposure to high quality child care provides children with a stimulating and safe environment, empowering them to try new things and learn to be self-sufficient. Below are some habits and activities can you implement in the classroom to build your children’s confidence: 

  • Encourage children to solve problems on their own: This is a great way to allow them to practice building up their independence and autonomy, and ultimately, confidence in their abilities.
  • Acknowledge specific improvements and skills: Calling out the things that a child does well or has made improvements on can help increase their self-esteem and how they see themselves and their abilities.
  • Provide unconditional support: Whether they're struggling with doing an activity or grasping certain information, showing children that they still have your support can boost their confidence.
  • Let them know it's ok to make mistakes: Children often won't get things right on the first try or even on the second. Making mistakes is part of growing and learning. Letting children know it's ok and encouraging them to keep trying increases their self-esteem.
  • Use positive affirmations: How children talk to themselves reflects how they see themselves. Encouraging them to speak positively about themselves and what they can accomplish can build their confidence and self-esteem.

Here are a few activities that can support children's development into confident individuals:

  • Assign classroom jobs: Giving children classroom jobs or tasks to complete around the classroom can nurture a sense of independence and responsibility.
  • Make a list of their wins: Tracking what your children have done well builds up their confidence and prepares them to take on new challenges. Bonus points if you can create a visual list of their wins and hang it somewhere in the classroom where they can see it everyday. 
  • Self-identifying projects: Allowing children to work on activities that focus on the positive things they see in or like about themselves can be reassuring and build up their confidence and self-esteem. For example, doing activities like "mirror mirror" where children stand in front of a mirror and name three things they like about themselves, prompts them to celebrate who they are and encourages self-love.
  • Choose a positive “word of the day”: This activity allows your class to identify a specific, positive word that they can use throughout the day to encourage positivity. This can also help build your children’s vocabulary skills by introducing them to new words.
  • Offer enrichment activities and programs: Enrichment programs are suitable for children of all backgrounds and abilities. They provide opportunities to unlock and cultivate new and natural talents and passions.

Building confidence and self-esteem in the classroom

A major part of helping children develop their self-esteem and confidence is bringing opportunities to explore new environments, try new things and learn to be self-sufficient into the classroom. As an early childhood teacher, your role goes beyond teaching children basic academic skills. It also extends to building up the whole child and their emotional, cognitive, and social health. In your role, you can give them the encouragement, support, and tools they need to believe in themselves and boost their confidence and self-esteem.

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