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Self Esteem Issues in Kids: Praise Isn't the Answer

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Self Esteem Issues in Kids: Praise Isn't the Answer

It may seem like giving kids praise will fix their self esteem issues, right? Not quite. Keep reading to learn why that may not be the best way to fix things.

Keyword(s): self esteem issues

It may seem like giving kids praise will fix their self esteem issues, right?

Not quite.

In fact, the most recent research seems to indicate otherwise. Heaping loads of praise on your child, especially those who appear to be struggling with low self esteem issues, might not be the right thing to do after all. The very thing that you think might be helping to boost your child's self esteem, might actually be hurting them.

If you are a parent who offers praise in hopes of making your child feel better about themselves, this post is for you! Keep reading to learn why that may not be the best way to fix things.

Today's Epidemic: Raising Kids with Self Esteem Issues

If you are raising children in today's society, you probably wonder what you can do to help them develop a healthy self-image. Self esteem issues among our kids have become a major focal point for parents. Yet, the youngest generations tend to be suffering from low self esteem at epidemic proportions.

The more we praise our child's efforts, the more we brag on their performance, the more trophies, rewards and applause that we dish out...the less they seem to appreciate. This seems to be their response in dealing with things and people. It shows up in their interactions with others, as well in their feelings towards themselves.

If you listen in on the conversations of present-day moms and dads, you are likely to hear them talking about their kid's questionable self esteem. This typically falls somewhere between complaints of endless activities, overwhelming schedules, rising participation costs, taxing social life and attitudes of entitlement.

It often seems as if nothing is good enough for today's child. No matter how much we spend on them, or do for them or give to them. They don't seem to be satisfied. But, today's children often don't feel that they are "good enough" either. It seems they aren't even satisfied with themselves.

How is it that the most privileged and doted upon generation is also the one dealing with the most self-esteem issues? How did we get to this point? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we fix it?

How Are We Hurting Our Child's Self Esteem?

In the 1970's parenting experts advised that all of our efforts should be aimed at developing positive self esteem in our children. Most parents would never want to hurt their child's self esteem. Most of us go to great lengths to do just the opposite. After years of being warned against contributing to poor self esteem, our behavior has shifted.

Now, we give every child a trophy, declare every child a winner, and brag on their efforts even when their grades, performance or character is less than desirable. Parents have been led to believe that children should be protected from anything that creates negative feelings. But, we have largely ignored that sometimes these negative feelings inspire positive growth. As a result, children become oblivious to how personal responsibility affects outcomes. A child that is never allowed to feel bad about their choices learns to negate responsibility and ownership.

Unfortunately, taking responsibility and ownership is what encourages us to make good decisions. It is what fuels studying for good grades, practicing for sports games and rehearsing for performances. When we are able to achieve our goals in areas such as these, we feel the rewards of being intrinsically motivated. We feel responsible for our achievements. And that makes us feel good about ourselves.

Recent studies show that children who receive inflated praise actually tend to suffer from more self esteem issues than those who do not. If children are applauded for their efforts in every area, then their true talents and gifts become less significant. In effect, their efforts become less meaningful. Research also indicates that giving too much praise puts pressure on children who already suffer from low self esteem issues.

These children may feel that they should always warrant high levels of praise. Because of this, they may hesitate to take on new challenges for fear that they may not do well. The fear of failing inhibits their willingness to try in situations where they are uncertain of their performance level. These revelations may come as a shock, but it's not too late to help your child develop self-confidence.

What You Can Do to Boost Your Child's Self Esteem:

If you want to start truly helping your child to develop a healthy self esteem, here are a few suggestions:

1. Give your child responsibility and allow the outcome to be the reward.

Children who only perform to receive an external reward or motivation miss out on the value of internal motivation and rewards. They do not learn the value of achievement without recognition. So, when they enter the real world they may not be motivated to work hard simply because it makes them feel good about themselves.

If they are constantly chasing praise, then you may be setting your child up for disappointment.

Allow them to learn to trust themselves to complete a task successfully. Give them the opportunity to do an activity and let the reward be how it makes them feel about themselves.

For example, let them plan and prepare a meal. Or let them build a birdhouse. Or plant a flower.

Once they see the results and feel the emotion of completing a task successfully, it will help them to not only know they are capable, but encourage their self esteem as well.

2. Use Descriptive Words to Encourage Rather than "Terms of Praise"

Using descriptive language takes away the connotations of "good" versus "bad."

For example, when your child shows you their artwork, instead of saying something like: "That's really great!" say something like this instead: "Use chose a lot of vibrant colors!"

This takes the pressure off of the performance, as well as taking away the superficial element of a generic response. It lets them know that you noticed their effort, but also allows them to feel it was their choice that created the results.

This helps them to feel like they have a stake in outcomes and take ownership of their decisions.

3. Don't hand out unwarranted praise or rewards.

If your child does poorly on an exam because they did not study, or performs poorly in a game due to missing practices, allow them to feel the weight of their decision. Instead of cushioning your response, ask them what they can do differently next time to achieve their goal.


As parents, we strive to raise confident children who are prepared for the future. Although it hurts to see our children learning to deal with disappointments, it is a necessary lesson that will help them grow into well-rounded adults.

Although giving your child undue or inflated praise might seem like the right thing to do, recent research indicates it may be contributing to self esteem issues.

If you really want to teach your child self-confidence, give them the tools to feel good about themselves.

Contact our office at (469) 665-9416 today to schedule an appointment or to speak with one of our parenting experts.

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