3 Easy Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Toddlers

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girlThough the individual days of parenting small children can seem oh so very long, the time we really have with our children as children races by at a mind-numbing speed. One minute we're worrying if they're ever going to take their first steps, and the next they're dancing around, singing along with Taylor Swift about how they're never, ever, ever getting back together with some guy at the top of their 4-year-old lungs, causing their mother to flash-forward to the dating years with panic.

So when I step back and think about the most important qualities I want to try to help instill in my children during this brief period I have raising them, there's one thing that constantly comes to the top of my list -- self-esteem. If nothing else, that's the one thing I think will help them most in life -- that ability to believe in themselves, to have the confidence to embrace who they are, and the strength to explore the world with passion.

But how does a parent help foster that important trait? Especially when we may feel that our own self-esteem is not always the strongest? I caught up with Nancy S. Buck, PhD, president and founder of Peaceful Parenting Inc., to get some tips to help build self-esteem in children, and her advice was surprising ... and quite simple, really. 

She said the most important tip she can offer parents to help grow their child's good self-esteem is to ask questions

"Parents can add information upon which the child may be able to give a better and more accurate self-evaluation," Buck said. "When parents ask their children to focus on their own skills and abilities and accomplishments, self-esteem becomes an inside job."

Here she offers three specifics for children ages 18 months to 5 years of age:

1. If your child is concentrating on a certain skill through play, parents can ask, “I see you are playing with your car. Are you able to make it go fast? What kind of driver are you?”

2. When your child is getting ready to sit for a meal, a parent can ask, “What do we do before we sit at the table?” If the child answers, agree and compliment on good remembering to get ready for a meal. If the child doesn’t remember, the parent can simply say, “We go to the bathroom, then wash our hands. Remember?” As you consistently highlight the routine, eventually your child will remember. Then you can give a compliment on their remembering. Eventually you can begin to ask, “What kind of a rememberer are you when getting ready for a meal?” (This tip can be done around other regular and routine daily living tasks, like: bedtime routine, nap routine, getting dressed routine, getting ready for bed routine, getting out the door for whatever the daily schedule brings.)

3. At the end of the day when you are tucking your child into bed, ask, “What did you do today that makes you feel especially proud?” After the child answers, or if they don’t answer at all, you can name one thing. Be as specific as possible. Like, “I was proud that you put your coat on when I asked so we could go outside for our walk.”

How do you help build self-esteem in your children?


Image via Julie Ryan Evans

a mom's life, toddler development


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Stephanie Donovan

great points, although it may seem small or non-important , thats just not so. EVERY little thing we do to help shape OUR children for their tomarro is everything.'I do as much as I can in one day to help them see what they see and do and share, IS important today, *&* someday huge for us all!!!

jessi... jessicasmom1

good points I want DD to be the best she can .. I wont be here forever to do it for her

Reen1 Reen1

This is a fantastic article. #s 1 and 2 are habitually normal parts of every day in our house, but I LOVE #3 and we're gonna start doing this too. I know my 8 yr old will totally dig remembering the things she did that made her proud of herself throughout her day. So great!

nonmember avatar Samantha

All a parent has to do is sit down and think about it. Give me 5 minutes and a piece of paper & pen, and i can come up with at least 10 ways to solve any problem or complete any parenting task. I understand some people dont have common sense, but most of us can manage. I found these fairly unhelpful, but i already do them & much more, and still manage to feel like im not doing well enough. Go more into depth & i might actually enjoy reading it.

snazz... snazzylady1

What a great article. Some excellent points were made.  It is so easy to get caught up in the hussle of life that we often forget to do the small things.  These things really do make a huge difference in the lives of children. 

Tonya Simmons


Chris... ChristyM123

Wow, Samantha, you claim to be great at building self-esteem, and yet you felt it necessary to post such a hateful, critical comment. Was that something that made you proud to post?

Felip... FelipesMom

I actually disagree with all three of these. Every one of them sends the message to the child that s/he needs something to feel good about - in my opinion, healthy self-esteem isn't the kind that forces you to look for evidence. You just feel good about you, and you feel strong and certain that even if you didn't remember to say please and thank you, you will be able to accomplish your next goal.

I especially disagree with the first one. A child playing with cars is perfectly content and feels no need to make them go fast in order to earn approval... until an adult teaches them that that's what they need to do.

Anyway, praise for effort has been proven to be more effective at helping people achieve more than praise for performance or ability. So even if you're going to offer praise, make it for effort! Then kids will believe that effort is worthwhile.

sukainah sukainah

Good points.  I try to read a few books to the kids about liking yourself and always encourage them when they do a good job.

godde... goddess99

I give encouragement and praise.

kellynh kellynh

Felipesmom makes a good point. I think building self esteem also is about the POSITIVE interaction with a child. You don't necessarily have to comment on a specific task at hand. 

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