Building Positive Self- Esteem in Your Strong-Willed Child

These six tips can help you help your child have a positive self-esteem or self-concept. Help your child to value himself, his talents, and who he is.

Happy child with high self-esteem

I know there is much debate among authors of parenting books (and therefore among parents) about whether self-esteem is real or not.

No matter what name you give it, I think that children, just like anyone, have a perception of themselves.

I also think that it is important to try to make that perception both accurate and positive. There is no reason for a person to have a negative view of themselves.

Take note that while these ideas are directed at strong-willed children, they work for ALL children and people.

Building Positive Self-Esteem

They say you need about 10 positive comments for every negative comment you give someone.

Strong-willed children often find themselves being corrected, and therefore have potential for a lot of negative comments each day.

Parenting the Strong-Willed Child has an entire chapter dedicated to building self-esteem. Here are some thoughts:

Skill Level

Forehand and Long talk about skill level. They say that self-esteem builds based on the child’s skill level and his evaluation of it.

I believe that the child’s evaluation of it is key here. Some people think they are better than they are, while others never seem to be able to accept they are as good at something as they are.

While we want to raise children who are humble, I do think it is best to recognize and accept what you are good at. 

For one thing, from a religious perspective, refusing to recognize your strengths is essentially refusing to recognize the gives the Lord has given you.

For another, the inability to recognize strengths can paralyze, or at the very least, slow down your ability to help where your skills are needed.

Forehand and Long go on to say that as the parent, you should help your child develop skills necessary to achieve the best of his ability.

Focus on strengths. Minimize his weaknesses.

Help him to feel good about his strengths.

It takes perceptiveness as a parent of young children to recognize strengths. I also think you need to be careful you don’t box your child into a stigma that isn’t necessarily true.

What about minimize strengths? I can’t speak to what the authors meant exactly. To me, that means for one, you help the child improve in that area so long as it is an area that is either needed or that he has interest in.

If your child can’t find a beat but loves to dance, let her take dance. But if she hates it, don’t push it. Let her do what she is interested in.

But let’s talk about a skill rather than a talent. Maybe your child isn’t very good at being polite to others.

Among my children, Kaitlyn has this amazing ability for being a hostess that far exceeds my abilities. I am not exaggerating in the least. If you come to my home, it likely won’t even cross my mind to offer you food or drink, but it will Kaitlyn’s! I literally learn from her.

She invites people in, invites them to sit, asks if they want a drink or some food…I don’t know where she gets it from. What a great talent!

Brayden is more like me. So while this is a weakness of his, it is one I think should be worked on to become a strength (and yes, one I need to work on too).

Forehand and Long emphasize to allow your child to follow his interests, not yours. Did you always want to be first-chair in the orchestra? That doesn’t mean your child does. Let your child follow his dreams.

Also, encourage your child to develop skills in areas he has a strong aptitude or ability.

Now, this can all get a bit tricky. I am of the belief that a person should strive to be well-rounded without running himself into the ground.

My current game plan is that our children will be required to be involved in one physical activity and one musical activity.

So they can do dance, sports, gymnastics, tumbling, track, etc. I think it is important to be physically active.

I also highly value music, so I will want them in a musical lesson of some sort. These are things I will encourage, and yes, require. But the exact avenue they take in these areas is up to them.

If you are a praying person, I would highly encourage you to be prayerful that you will recognize you child’s natural strengths and weaknesses so you can properly assess each.

Offer Encouragement

Offer praise and encouragement to your child for a job well done. Make them verbal and non-verbal.

Pats on the back. Verbal praise. Hang artwork.

Something Forehand and Long say is to praise the effort rather than the outcome. “Wow, I can tell you worked really hard on this picture.” “You sure tried your best out there on the field!”

Limit the negative feedback you give. Many psychologists say to offer so many “good jobs” per negative comment. Forehand and Long say to offer 3-4 positives for every negative. As I mentioned earlier, many say you need ten positives for every negative.

>>>Read: Yes When You Can, No When You Must

Avoid absolutes. “You always…” or “You never…” are not productive. “You always spill your milk!” or “You never put your shoes away!”

Statements like these paint a false sense of reality and can make the person receiving these comments feel like there is no reason to put forth effort because the positive is not recognized anyway.

Encourage your child to have positive self-talk. When he talks about his abiltities, encourage him to talk positively.

Allow Responsibilities

Give your child responsibilities. He will feel good about helping.

Let your child make simple decisions, like what shirt to wear or which sippy cup to drink out of. You have to make the decisions you offer age-appropriate for your child.

Allowing for age-appropriate decisions shows your child you trust him, and it also helps him practice getting to know about consequences.

Allow your child to take some risks. Sometimes he might fail. I love the point from Forehand and Long that says that single failure does not have a negative impact on self-concept; repeated failure does.

Children need to learn how to cope with failure. We can also learn a lot from failure. So step back and allow those consequences to come.

You have to be careful that you don’t demand perfection. No child is perfect. Encourage best effort.

Teach Problem Solving Skills

Teach your child to be able to solve problems on his own. This of course is easily achieved through independent playtime.

>>>Read: Independent Playtime: The Ultimate Overview

Teach Social Skills

Give your child chances to have social experiences as age-appropriate. Make sure you are present as needed by age, also, so you can be there to observe and discuss things with your child.

Give Time

Remember to give your child time and attention. Be accepting of your child. Show love. Keep your home a safe place.

Your child gets enough assault from the world; make sure that you are one who shows him unconditional love. That doesn’t mean you never discipline or correct, but it does mean you are kind and show love at the same time.


This is a rough summary of one chapter in one book on building positive self-esteem. There are entire books written on just one category.

In the end, stay present in your child’s life, be prayerful, and show love and these things should happen naturally.


Building self esteem in strong willed children
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5 thoughts on “Building Positive Self- Esteem in Your Strong-Willed Child”

  1. Hi Valerie:I have been (somewhat silently) following along on your blog for years. I've tried to follow Babywise principles with my daughter (now 5) since she was born. I have had good results so far, but lately I have seen that my daughter is beginning to succumb to "peer-pressure". Meaning, she is making bad decisions under the influence of her friends (one friend in particular), decisions that she would not make were she by herself. These are decisions to be unkind to her other friends, or to not listen to her teachers, etc. In general, she is a very spirited and social girl who I think a lot of friends enjoy being around and I think she enjoys this status. However, she does have a tendency to get carried away in the moment. I am wondering how to address this and have some thoughts/questions that I would love to get your feedback on:1. I read somewhere that self-esteem is key. That a person with low self-esteem succumbs to peer-pressure since they are eager to please others and have no sense of their own judgement of their actions.As such, I think my husband and I have worked hard on her self-esteem (let her do things her way, offer encouragement, independent playtime), but perhaps we need to do this more? We do focus on saying things like "You must be proud of yourself" as well as "I am proud of you". But she often asks "Do you think my art work is good?". If she is around and I praise another child, she will say "And you don't think I share well." etc. I read your posts on self-esteem and we do seem to be doing all those things. Perhaps she thinks we are too hard on her because we have high standards of her. But we do encourage her effort. 2. Moral compass. I read an article you wrote about the difference between prohibitive and positive conscience. I think that she most likely has a prohibitive conscience. We do offer the reason for correct behavior and do focus on the why. But once again, perhaps she feels our love is conditional because she thinks we are too hard on her?Just curious to hear your thoughts.Thanks and keep up the EXCELLENT work! Your website has shed light on many parenting dilemmas for me. :)Manisha

    • Hi there! I will take one question at a time. Following–I think self-worth can have something to so with it, but I also think some people are naturally more followers than leaders. And I also think that is okay. The world needs more followers than leaders. The trick is to teach children to choose a right leader and to stay behind that right leader even if others are not. So for our family, that leader figure would ultimately be The Lord. There is a saying "right is right even when no one else is doig it and wrong is wrong even when no one is doing it." Focus on praising her efforts like you mentioned. Also, it is good to be specific rather than "good job." Hone in on her love language and spend quantity time with her. Quantity translates to quality. People like to give a solid 15 minutes and then congratulate themselves on giving quality time–but children need time from parents in quantities. This can be doing chores together–just spend time together. She sounds like a mix of kaitlyn and McKenna. Kaitlyn has a hard time hearing others complimented without feeling like that means she isn't good at it. We often remind her that there can be more than one person who is good at something. I think this is a common female thing–to feel inferior to others when we see their talents. Just remind her often that others can be talented AND she can be talented. It might help her to offer compliments to other people. As she practices it, she will discover she is still the same level of awesome even if others are awesome too. The McKenna side of her is the party girl who is a follower. In this instance, I think it is important to not allow her more freedom than she can handle out of the home. Remind her of rules and be ver consistent when those rules are broken. Take it in a "love and logic"way (the book) and say things like, "oh that is too bad you made that choice! Now xyz has to happen." Nurture Schock is a great read for self esteem talk. Also focus on showing love to others and talk about how we show love and how our actions can sometimes show something other than love. When she has friends over, stay in ear shot so you can keep her in line of where she should be and quickly correct her. At some point she will not be okay with that and you want her trained before that point.

    • The moral compass–is she a perfectionist? If so, the tricky thing is to not out too much pressure on her (she will put enough on herself) while still correcting her. When she makes a wrongs choice, stay calm and talk about it. Does she think that was a good idea? Why? What should she have done? What eill she do next time? Explain your job is to help her grow up to be the best person she can be. We tell this to our children and it really changes their perspective and understanding of why we do what we do.

  2. Thanks for all your suggestions! I think these will be very helpful. I have already started implementing one suggestion (making sure she understands that more than one person can be good at something) and beginning to notice a few changes (very very minor, but still noticeable).Yes, she is a perfectionist. So I can see what you are saying there. Will keep in mind.Thanks again Valerie! I really do appreciate it!


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