50 Ways to Build Self-Esteem for Kids & Teens: When Self-Esteem is a Verb

50 Ways to Build Self-Esteem for Kids Poster on chalkboard next to crayons.


Supporting kids to step into their power was always one of my favorite missions as a school counselor. (And continues to be as parent…and resource maker, too!)  Don’t we all want self-esteem for kids?  So that they are awesome, lovable, amazing, strong, powerful, resilient and enough always?! 

Not only is this sense of unconditional worthiness key for a young person’s emotional well-being, it’s also an important factor in developing healthy relationships and being successful in school, sports, hobbies, and all things learning. It’s a protective factor that helps them tackle the ups and downs of growing up.  In addition to helping them develop healthy social connections and make wise decisions.

So how can we help the young people in our lives build up their self-esteem? At the most basic, intuitive level, we can show them how much we value them by giving them love, respect and support no matter what. Encouraging them to pursue their hobbies and interests is super helpful. On top of giving them a pat on the back, big smile, or high-five when they do something great, even if it’s just completing their homework (which for some kiddos, is a huge, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes, tortuous, sometimes super boring task). 

Rather than focusing on results, we can cheer them on and recognize their hard work and effort. We can teach them that mistakes happen, that is no way around that, and that’s okay.  Rather, when dealing with mistakes, frame them as opportunities to learn and grow.  We can also encourage them to believe in themselves and capacity for resiliency, even and especially when life gets tough.

What If Self-Esteem Was A Verb

Most of us think of self-esteem as something we either have or we don’t.  The dictionary declares that self-esteem is noun, after all.  

But what might happen if we thought about self-esteem as a verb?  As something that is actionable? As something that we DO?  How might the way we try to nurture self-esteem in kids change if we imagine it as something like brushing your teeth or  taking a walk? 

In other words, I like to think of self-esteem as a verb.  As a practice, a habit, a way of thinking and a way of behaving.  We can actively cultivate and improve our self-esteem by setting and working towards goals, showing ourselves some love and kindness, talking back to our negative self-talk, setting boundaries, creating, and making deliberate choices to be responsible and trustworthy to ourselves. By treating self-esteem like a verb, we can DO things that cultivate self-compassion, resilience, and a strong internal locus of control.  



Understanding self-esteem in this way makes it a bit easier, or at least more concrete, perhaps, to better support kids and teens to step into their own power.  Sure, we can tell our children “you are awesome!” all the time.  But that ends up being more external validation.  

Rather, when we encourage and support kids to actually DO what inspires creativity, grit, curiosity, compassion, and joy….they get to experience the making of and skill building of self-esteem from within.

50 Actionable Ways Kids Can Build Self-Esteem

Here is a list of 50 do-able ways to build self-esteem for kids:  

1. Create, build, cook, bake, garden and/or do art.

2. Like, love, embrace & accept yourself.  Remind yourself by writing down a list of your positive traits, accomplishments, and what you’re good at and enjoy.

3. Show respect towards others and yourself. This might look like using polite language or practicing self-care. 

4. Use good posture. Stand tall as you are. 

5.  Don’t compare yourself to what you see in the media (or on social media). (The less time you spend on the screens, the better! Remind yourself that most of the stuff you see on social media has been photoshopped and filtered.) 

6.  Do more of what helps you feel good about yourself.  Is it taking your dog on a walk? Studying for the spelling bee?  Playing chess?

7. Laugh!  Play! Have fun! Get Silly! 

8. Practice gratitude. Try to think about at least 3 things you are thankful for each day. 

9. Say positive affirmations such as, “I am awesome!” or “I can do hard things!”

10. Resolve conflict peacefully & use I-Statements. 

11. Ask for help and support. Make a list of people you trust and can turn to for the times you need it.  

12. Set goals & work towards them, step by step. Is it learning a new trick on your BMX bike? Memorizing multiplication equations? Organizing your room?

13. Limit how much time you spend in front of screens. Unplug and go outside.  Connect with nature. 

14. Complete your school assignments. Even the ones that are boring or seem too hard. 

15. Do random acts of kindness. Open the door for someone.  Give a compliment. Smile.   


16. Start a new hobby or sport.  Join a club at school. 

17. Give yourself a hug (for at least 20 seconds!)

18. Say what you want, need & hope for. 

19. Drink plenty of water. (At least 8 cups a day!)

20. Say “Thank you” when someone complements you. 

21. Be responsible for your choices at school & at home. And if you make a mistake, try to make it better. 

22. Get enough sleep. (9-11 hours is best!) And rest when your body needs it. 

23. Help others. 

24. Have a growth mindset. 

25. Focus on solutions, not problems.

26. Remind yourself your bravery is stronger than your fear. And then go for it. You 

27. Take slow, mindful breaths.

28. Forgive others.  Forgive yourself. (Everyone makes mistakes.  That’s part of being human)


29. Eat healthy food. 

30. Focus on the positives and be optimistic. Try to find the “glass is half full” perspective.

31. Say “no” to things that violate your boundaries are you feel uncomfortable with.

32. Practice daily hygiene. For instance, brush and floss your teeth! 

33. Exercise! 

34. Tell the truth and be honest. Even if it’s hard.  

35. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust.

36. Try again when something doesn’t work out the way you hoped it would. Come up with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. 

37.  Spend time with caring adults.

38. Get to work on the chores and other responsibilities you have been putting off. 

39. Learn to practice healthy ways to cope with stress, such as going on a walk, focusing on your breath, doing something creative, and getting a hug from someone you care about. 

40.  Make choices that stay true to what you value.  Value your family?  Spend time with them. Value a sport?  Practice! 

41. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I love you!”


42. Don’t compare yourself with others.  Remember you are unique! Show off what makes you you!

43. Read! 

44. Talk to yourself as if you were your own best friend.

45. Focus on the things you have control over and can change.

46. See mistakes as opportunities to learn.

47. Remember that no one is perfect.

48. Choose friends who treat you how you want to be treated.

49. Follow your curiosities and learn!  Tr or create something new!  

50. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion.  Even and especially when life gets hard.  

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