Self-esteem in children aged 5 and over

Self-esteem in children aged 5 and over
From the age of 5, self-esteem becomes important as children come to face different challenges.

From the age of 5, it’s important for kids to have good self-esteem so they can face the many challenges of school life. As a parent, you can help your child. Above all, it’s within the family that they develop the foundations of their self-esteem.

What is self-esteem?

The terms self-confidence and self-esteem are often used interchangeably. Although they’re related, there is a difference between the two. Self-esteem is based on your awareness of your own personal value. It’s the ability to recognize your strengths and limitations. Self-confidence, on the other hand, is believing in your ability to succeed. When a child has good self-esteem, they accept themself as they are and have a positive self-image.

Having good self-esteem is also about feeling worthy of being loved and feeling comfortable enough to use your skills to face life’s challenges. It’s understanding that you have value, even if everything you do isn’t perfect. In this way, a child can have good self-esteem even if they don’t do well in a particular school subject.

However, self-esteem can vary from one context to another. For example, a child’s self-esteem may be strong in their social life but weaker when it comes to school.

A child with good self-esteem is able to do the following:

  • See themself in an accurate light
  • Determine what makes them different from others
  • Make decisions
  • Express their needs, feelings, ideas, and preferences
  • Set realistic goals
  • Have confidence in the future
  • Dare to take risks and allow themself to make mistakes
  • Stay motivated to learn and move forward
  • Have positive relationships with others
  • Trust themself and others
  • Earn people’s respect

School and self-esteem

At the age of 5, your child must adapt to a new reality: school. This is a demanding period of learning. Your child is absorbing a lot of new information and learning to focus, stay organized, and become more independent and responsible. At school, they’re also surrounded by many other kids their age. This may lead them to start comparing themself to others, whether in terms of athletic ability (link in French) or how they do in different subjects (reading, writing, math, art, etc.). They may also compare themself in terms of physical appearance and how they interact with their peers. If your child has low self-esteem, their confidence may take a hit. It’s important to make them feel unique and to avoid comparing them to others.

How to help your child develop their self-esteem

As a parent, you have a significant influence on your child’s self-esteem. Here are some ways to help them build and maintain their self-esteem.

  • Show your child that you love them just as they are—unconditionally, and not because of what they do or how they look. You can do this by frequently telling them that you love them and by being affectionate.
  • Make time for your child. Whenever you spend time with them and give them attention, you’re letting them know that they matter to you.
  • Take an interest in what they do. You are still at the centre of your child’s universe. Your attention means a lot to them.
  • Recognize your child’s efforts and accomplishments. At the same time, remember that the effort they put into a task is always more important than the result.
  • Foster your child’s sense of confidence. This is an important step towards building self-esteem. To learn more, consult our fact sheet on helping a child develop self-confidence.
  • Help your child notice their strengths. You don’t need to compliment them all the time, but do pay attention to what they do. When they succeed at something or when they find their own solutions to a problem, point it out to make sure they’re aware. Show them you’re proud of them while asking if they feel proud of themself too.
Consider making a scrapbook-style album with your child by recording their biggest achievements and adding photos. This will allow them to revisit the things they’re proud of.
  • Avoid exaggerating the compliments you give your child. If they’re often told that they’re the best at every sport, for instance, or that their drawings are all extraordinary, they might develop an unrealistic view of their abilities.
  • Let your child express their tastes, feelings, and thoughts, as this will lead to a better understanding of themself.
  • Help them recognize their limitations or difficulties when necessary, but also encourage them to improve. Highlight their efforts and the progress they make while keeping your expectations realistic based on your child’s age and abilities.
  • Give your child small responsibilities. For example, let them do household chores. This will make them feel useful and give them a sense of pride.
  • Teach your child that everyone makes mistakes and that a mistake is not a failure. Let them know they don’t have to be perfect for you to be proud of them. Help them think of ways they can do better next time.
  • If your child does something wrong, criticize their behaviour rather than them as a person. For example, instead of saying they weren’t nice, you can tell them that what they did wasn’t nice.
  • Always treat your child with respect. What you say to them has a big impact on their self-image. Even if your child doesn’t act the way you want them to, even if they aren’t as fast or as capable as you’d like them to be, remain calm and positive. Don’t put them down. Insulting, yelling, and ridiculing them, even in the form of jokes, can hurt your child’s feelings and harm their self-esteem.

Signs that a child lacks self-esteem

There are several signs, some of which are subtle, that may indicate that your child has low self-esteem. For starters, they may tell lies to get attention or to make themself feel important. They may refuse to join their friends in an activity, such as biking or playing soccer, because they think they aren’t good enough and are afraid of what other people will think of them. Your child might also use self-deprecating language, often saying things like, “I’m no good,” “I can’t do this,” or “I never understand anything.”

If you notice these signs in your child, don’t hesitate to discuss it with them. Consider using the tips mentioned above as well to help build their self-esteem. However, if you feel that lack of self-esteem is hurting your child or you’ve run out of ideas on how to help them, don’t hesitate to seek advice. You can discuss the issue with your child’s teachers or with a professional trained in psychology, psychoeducation, or special education.

Being a good role model for your child

Considering that your child still learns a lot by imitating you, you can help them by working on your own self-esteem. Here are some examples of what you can do.

  • If you’re proud of something you did, don’t be afraid to say so, even if it was a small accomplishment.
  • Do activities for fun, not for the sake of proving yourself. For example, when playing board games with your child, tell them you don’t mind whether you win or lose because getting to spend time with them is what really matters.
  • Don’t be overly concerned about what other people think. For example, avoid making comments like, “What will people say if I go to the store in my old sweater?”
  • Don’t put yourself down. If you’ve made a mistake or done something poorly, simply explain to your child that you’ll try again and learn to do better next time.
  • At dinner, go around the table and have everyone name something they did well that day.

If you’re not able to see things in a more positive light, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional, such as a psychologist or psychoeducator.

Things to keep in mind

  • Having good self-esteem means being able to recognize your strengths and limitations, appreciating yourself the way you are, and knowing your worth.
  • You can help your child build their self-esteem by praising their efforts, pointing out their achievements, and giving them small responsibilities.
  • You are a role model for your child who can show them what it means to have good self-esteem.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Ariane Leroux-Boudreault, psychologist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2021


Photos: GettyImages AlexD75 and kali9


Sources and references

Books and resources for parents

  • Collective. “Pop ton potentiel.” Poster, Éditions Midi trente, 2013.
  • Deslauriers, Stéphanie. Attention : estime de soi en construction. Éditions Midi trente, 2013.
  • Deslauriers, Stéphanie. Le bonheur d’être un parent imparfait. Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur, 2017, 160 pp.
  • Duclos, Germain. L’estime de soi, un passeport pour la vie. 2nd ed., Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 248 pp.
  • Duclos, Germain. Le sentiment d’infériorité chez l’enfant. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2014, 208 pp.
  • Dufour, Geneviève and Sandra Morin. Moi et mon univers. Éditions Midi trente, 2014, 28 pp.
  • Faber, Adele, and Elaine Mazlish. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Scribner, 2012, 384 pp.
  • Laporte, Danielle, and Lise Sévigny. L’estime de soi des 6–12 ans. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2019, 120 pp.
  • Laporte, Danielle, and Lise Sévigny. Comment développer l’estime de soi chez nos enfants : guide pratique à l’intention des parents d’enfants de 6 à 12 ans. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2015, 128 pp.
  • Siegel, Daniel, and Tina Bryson. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Bantam, 2012, 192 pp.
  • Vallières, Suzanne. Les psy-trucs pour les enfants de 6 à 9 ans. Éditions de l’Homme, 2009, 240 pp.

Books for kids

  • Coppo, Marianna. Petra. Tundra Books, 2018, 48 pp.
  • De Haes, Ian. Superlumineuse. Éditions Alice jeunesse, 2018, 40 pp.
  • Gravel, Élise. Tu peux. Éditions La courte échelle, 2018, 24 pp.