The development of self-esteem in children is said to be tied to the quality of their relationships with their caregivers and other important adults. It is believed that adults can help foster the healthy development of self-esteem by showing respect for children's needs, feelings, and thoughts. Children who are encouraged to learn new skills and explore their boundaries as they grow are considered more likely to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. Most experts believe, however, that adults should set appropriate limits for children's behavior, not only for the children's safety, but to help strengthen their relationships with caregivers. It is believed that allowing children to experience disappointment and failure can help them to acquire valuable coping skills that can help to protect self-esteem throughout life, while encouraging children to master activities they enjoy can foster individuality and confidence.
Psychologists typically believe that encouragement, praise, and loving acceptance can help with the development of self-esteem in young children. It is considered important, however, to praise children only when the quality of their performance merits it. Children who succeed at their endeavors, especially when those endeavors are meaningful to them, are generally more likely to enjoy healthy levels of self-esteem. When children fail, experts advise, adults should resist the urge to cushion the blow. Early experiences of failure, it is believed, help children learn to recover from disappointment without sustaining lasting damage to their self-esteem.
Most children of all ages wish to be independent, but they are often also aware of their reliance on parents and caregivers for material and emotional support. As a result, many children will alternately express a sense of independence, followed by a clear need for attention from an adult caregiver. Experts typically suggest communicating to children that these alternating behavior patterns are normal, and that the child remains loved and accepted even when he is not exhibiting good behavior and a sense of independence. Limits on behavior and discipline are important for healthy childhood development, but children should generally feel respected and loved by the adults in their lives, even when they are being punished.
While many parents may fear that the inappropriate development of self-esteem in their children could lead to poor performance in school, sports, and other areas, most experts believe that good performance leads to good self-esteem. Experimenting with different activities can help children and adolescents gain a sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Good performance can help children and adolescents foster a sense of their own competence.