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Building Kids’ Self-Worth

confidentkidcrpdI started out calling this post “Building Kids’ Self-Esteem”, but then I realized I really want to talk about something else.  Esteem is really about how other people see us, while worth is about feeling innately, inherently worthy.

I talked in my last post about the Catfish phenomenon, and how I believe it is fueled by low self-esteem on both sides.  But maybe I was wrong.  Maybe it’s about low self-worth on both sides.

I’ve heard that a good way to build self-esteem is to do esteemable acts, but in my practice, I haven’t found this to be true.  Often, my clients start doing things that other people regard highly, but they can’t feel it themselves.  They might even doubt the compliments they’re receiving.

And that goes to low self-worth.  Even when you hear what you desperately want–that you’re smart or loving or beautiful, you name it–you don’t full believe it.  You just don’t feel it, deep down.

So how can we help our kids recognize their own self-worth, deep down?

Now, let me just say, this is my own answer, forged from years of therapy practice and observation.  I haven’t heard any research to this effect.  But here’s what I think: Kids recognize their own inherent worth when we teach them that EVERYONE has value and worth; it’s not predicated on what we do.  It’s simply who we are, as human beings.

What I’m saying is that worth needs to be separated from achievement.  Now, it’s great to encourage your kids to achieve, but if their value depends on it, on external praise and validation, then other problems are coming their way.  They’re being set up to believe that failure reduces their value.

On the contrary–the willingness to try and fail is at the heart of achievement.  It’s built into the entrepreneurial spirit.  If people are too afraid to fail, they won’t try.  And then they’ll know that about themselves, that they were too afraid to take a chance in order to possibly fulfill their dreams.

But if our kids believe they are inherently worthy, that they deserve success just as much as everyone else does, that they are entitled to pursue happiness equally with the rest of humanity (not that they are more entitled, mind you), then positive things can follow.  They will insist upon a certain treatment from other people, not because they’re special, but because they’re like everyone else: inherently valuable.

For me, creating empathy in our children is actually at the heart of self-worth.  It’s not about telling them how great they are all the time; it’s about helping them feel their value all the time.  From there, you can encourage them to feel strong and capable and resilient.

Now, will someone do a research study to see if I’m right on this?

Confident kid photo available from Shutterstock

Building Kids’ Self-Worth

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2013). Building Kids’ Self-Worth. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2013
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