How to Give Praise That Builds Your Child’s Self-Esteem

By Amanda Morin
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At a Glance

  • Praise is more meaningful when it helps kids appreciate their achievements.

  • Kids’ self-esteem can come from recognizing how much work they put into meeting a goal.

  • The words you use to praise kids show them how to look at their own efforts.

You know it’s important to praise kids. But it’s even more meaningful for kids to learn to appreciate their own efforts. Self-esteem comes from working hard toward a goal and feeling good about it. So when kids see that their hard work is paying off, it helps them develop the ability to self-praise. What you say—and how you say it—can help kids to recognize things that they should be proud of. Here are some suggestions.

Situation Try saying… The self-praise connection

The project you’re looking at is good, but you know that more effort could have gone into it.

“That’s a great start.”

“How do you like it?”

“Do you think it’s your best effort?”

This approach helps kids reflect on whether their work measures up to their expectations. It also asks them to consider how hard they worked and whether they’re proud of the effort they put in.

Your child has done something well, but is downplaying the positive actions and success of the effort.

“You may not think it’s a big deal, but it was kind of you to stick up for your friend.”

“It sounds like you’re proud. What about this makes you feel that way?”

This approach points out what you think is worthy of praise and what you value. It also asks kids to think about what they’re proud of and what they value.

You know your child worked hard but still didn’t meet the goal.

“I’m sorry you didn’t quite make it to your goal. You got close! Do you feel like you can do it the next time?”

“It’s nice that you enjoyed the books you did read, even though reading can be hard for you.”

This approach asks kids to reflect on what worked, not just what needs improvement. It also helps kids learn to be OK with doing things they like to do, but aren’t great at.

Your child aces a test—and knows it.

“I’d love to know how you did it! What strategies did you use?”

“Wow, I can see why you’re excited. You worked really hard.”

This approach reminds kids that consistently doing something well takes effort—even if they didn’t doubt they could do it. It asks kids to look at what they did that led to success. And it helps them acknowledge and take pride in their effort and success.

Your child behaves according to the expectations you talked about ahead of time.

“Thank you for listening/following the rules. I know it took hard work to do that.”

This approach gives kids specific feedback they can directly match to the expectations. It also allows them to start paying attention to how they’re measuring up to what’s expected of them.

Praise can help motivate your child. But self-esteem comes from working hard toward a goal. It’s important to give kids opportunities to find new interests to pursue and work at. You can help kids explore their strengths with a crafty and visual activity—making a strengths chain.

Key Takeaways

  • Praising effort—even when kids don’t meet their goals—can help build self-esteem.

  • It helps to ask kids to explain what they did that led to success.

  • Being specific about what you expect can help kids match their actions to expectations.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

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