The Self-Esteem Ladder in Children

The self-esteem ladder is a tool for understanding the complexity of this concept and helping children to like themselves. Learn more.
The Self-Esteem Ladder in Children

Last update: 11 December, 2022

Self-esteem is a complex concept that includes several categories. Therefore, we can think of it as a ladder. One of the most significant challenges parents face is fostering healthy self-esteem in their children. This is an essential element to achieving well-being and solving everyday problematic situations. With that in mind, we want to talk to you about the self-esteem ladder.

Children with good self-esteem feel valued, accepted, and confident in themselves. On the contrary, children with poor self-esteem tend to feel more insecure and unable to cope with adversity. Below, you’ll receive valuable information about different strategies that you can carry out to promote the adequate development of your children or students.

The self-esteem ladder

When we talk about self-esteem, we’re referring to the set of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that a person has about themself. In general terms, it’s what one thinks and feels about themself. It also reflects the level of satisfaction with who one is.

Fortunately, it’s not an isolated and immovable concept. Rather, its development is uninterrupted and fluctuates over time. This means that it’s possible to improve one’s own perception and even help children to strengthen their self-esteem. Let’s take a step-by-step look at how to help little ones like themselves.

The first step is self-knowledge

You can’t love someone you don’t know, can you? Often, people think we know ourselves much better than we really do. Self-knowledge involves being aware of one’s strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and interests.

There are different strategies and activities to help children get to know themselves. As adults, it’s important that we highlight their abilities and not ignore the difficulties we see in them. No one’s perfect, and being able to recognize one’s own weaknesses is a great value. At the same time, it’s essential to respect children’s perceptions of themselves and the world, even if they don’t coincide with our interpretation.

A child climbing a staircase in the woods.
Knowing one’s emotions and feelings, as well as being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses, is part of self-knowledge, the first step on the ladder of self-esteem.

Second step, self-concept

As we advance one more rung on the self-esteem ladder, we find ourselves with the idea of self-concept. This refers to the beliefs that one has about oneself, which are manifested verbally or through one’s behavior. This notion is created from the lived experience and the projected or perceived image of others. From this perspective, it’s understood that self-concept is determined by both internal and external information.

“Self-concept may be defined as the totality of a complex, organized, and dynamic system of learned beliefs, attitudes and opinions that each person holds to be true about his or her personal existence.”

– Purkey, W –

Unlike self-esteem, self-concept is externalized through words. For example, when a child says: “I’m good at sports” or “I’m a bad child”, they verbalize the beliefs they have about themself.

Third step, self-evaluation

Self-evaluation is the internal capacity to evaluate oneself and assess each of the qualities or traits of one’s personality. To promote the development of healthy self-esteem, it’s essential to emphasize this link. People examine their own behavior all the time. Therefore, actions, achievements, and failures are calibrated, and then a certain value is given to them.

We can accompany little ones in this process and reinforce positive thoughts about themselves, making them feel valuable. In this regard, rigid parenting isn’t the best alternative. On the contrary, encouraging empathetic and respectful dialogue will go a long way toward making children proud of their own worth. In addition, it’s important to avoid comparisons with siblings or other children.

Fourth step, self-acceptance

Without acceptance, there’s no chance of building strong self-esteem. Accepting oneself isn’t synonymous with loving oneself. Rather, it refers to admitting that you are the way you are and not fighting against it. Self-acceptance is a skill that includes acceptance of negative, positive, or neutral attributes. It’s about coming to terms with one’s body, thoughts, strengths, and weaknesses.

A child who accepts themself as they are is more resourceful in responding to criticism, teasing, or hurtful comments in a more assertive manner. So, accept your child as they are and avoid judging their personality, likes, interests, dress, or choices. By accepting them, you’ll help them to accept themself.

A child smiling with his arms in the air.
Encouraging your child’s autonomy and independence is key to building self-confidence. That way, they’ll know what they’re capable of achieving.

The fifth step in the self-esteem ladder is self-respect

Self-respect involves the ability to defend one’s own values and ideals. It involves tending to and meeting one’s needs and expressing one’s feelings without hurting or blaming oneself. In other words, it’s about registering one’s needs and moving toward complacency.

A self-respecting child assumes a suitable attitude when another person tries to violate their rights, invade their privacy, or hurt their self-esteem. That’s to say, a person who has self-respect won’t let themself be easily despised because they’ll be able to stand firm with their convictions and be respectful toward others. In this regard, you can teach your child to defend themselves without resorting to violence, but by setting limits in a healthy way. It’s about transmitting confidence to strengthen their identity.

Sixth step, self-esteem

The last step of the self-esteem ladder is the integration of all the previous ones. Each of the steps is connected to the others and involves a permanent movement. As parents, we can accompany each of these processes so that children can build their identity based on self-esteem. It’s important to point out and celebrate their achievements, but without ignoring their weaknesses.

The child is the protagonist

It’s essential to encourage the child’s autonomy and independence so that they know what they’re capable of and thus strengthen their self-confidence. In addition, this will help the child to overcome more easily the problematic situations they’ll face throughout their life. Remember that although you can accompany them in the development of their self-esteem, it’s a process in which they should feel like the protagonist.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Branden, N. (1995). Los seis pilares de la autoestima. Paidós
  • González-Pienda, J. A., Núñez Pérez, J. C., Glez.-Pumariega, S., & García García, M. S. (1997). AUTOCONCEPTO, AUTOESTIMA Y APRENDIZAJE ESCOLAR. Psicothema9(Número 2), 271–289. Recuperado a partir de
  • Purkey, W. (1970): Self-concept and school achievement. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.