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Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem: Focus on Their Strengths

November 16, 2017 | by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP

Six ways to help children develop their strengths.

Most people have no problem rattling off their weaknesses and have a much harder time articulating their strengths.

This is especially true for children.

We can build our children’s healthy sense of self by teaching them what their strengths are and how to cultivate those strengths.

Here are six ways we can help children develop their strengths:

1. Parents Matter:

Children need to know that they are loved for who they are. As we mentioned above, they need to be cherished and valued for their natural abilities and strengths. Don’t underestimate the power of being your child’s biggest fan and supporter. When parents foster children’s strengths, children learn to be independent, confident and responsible. Help them shine by promoting their interests in the areas they love and naturally excel at.

According to psychologist Martin Seligman, helping kids appreciate their strengths may take some detective work. We may also need to check our own biases since oftentimes our child’s strength may go against what is culturally valued in our society. Ask yourself:

  • What does my child enjoy doing?
  • What comes to him/her naturally?

Once you have a picture of what your child’s strengths are, gently encourage them to pursue those activities. Play math games with your child who loves numbers, sign your child up for dance or art lessons, buy your child a journal if they love to make up stories.

And give them space. Let them cultivate their talents in peace. Practicing dance moves in front of their mirror, being able to relax and color or write during down time might just be what your child needs. Being pushed to do activities, even ones they may love, can take away the joy in doing them.

2. There are lots of ways to be smart:

In order to help children appreciate their strengths parents may need to broaden their vocabulary and understanding of what constitutes a strength. For example, there are nine different categories of intelligence. These intelligences can assist parents with identifying what their child’s strengths are:

Intelligence Area

Represented in society by:


Artist, Navigator, Architect: You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.


Journalist, Teacher, Lawyer: You prefer using words, both in speech and writing


Accountants, Computers, Engineers: You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.


Salesperson, Mental Health, Politician: You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.


Researcher, Novelist, Entrepreneur: You prefer to work alone and use self-study.


Musician, Composer, DJ: You prefer using sound and music.


Farmer, Botanist, Environmentalist: You prefer working outdoors with animals and plants.


Philosopher, Theorist: You prefer dealing with abstract theories


Athlete, Firefighter, Actor: You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.

3. Teach children to notice their strengths

Knowing about strengths and weaknesses is helpful to children, but it has to be taken a few steps further in order to be useful to them. How can we help children use their personal strengths to build self-confidence and a positive attitude? Part of this depends on the child’s age. Young children love to tell you about themselves, and are open to telling you what they like to learn. In contrast, older children and teens may have a hard time opening up. We need to point out their strengths:

  • “I noticed you love basketball, you seem so comfortable holding and dribbling the ball.”
  • "I noticed that you love to figure out math problems in your head.”

Sometimes children won’t talk about themselves and we need to find a clever in to help them understand the concept of strengths.

For example, when children talk about their friends they might say, “Sara is so klutzy in dance.” It is a perfect opportunity to ask, “Well, what are Sara’s strengths? What does she like to do? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses…”

4. Listen to children

The most important thing we can do to encourage a child to use their strengths is to listen to them. In our house, whenever someone comes up with an innovative or even silly idea, we try to listen as best as we can and say, “In this house, we encourage innovation and creativity! Just keep on coming up with ideas!” Even if it is said tongue in cheek, it still sends a powerful message.

5. Help children tackle new challenges:

Self-esteem comes from learning new skills and undertaking challenges. We all need to do things that we don’t like to do and things that don’t come naturally to us. Even pursuing our strengths can take hard work and effort.

We can teach our children tackle challenges by making sure that they are doing chores at home, volunteering in the community and taking responsibility for their schoolwork.

Role modeling also works. Talk about the challenges that you have and how you managed them. “I had a really challenging issue at work today. I pushed through, asked for help, and spent a few extra hours on it. It paid off, we dealt with it successfully!”

According to Carol Dweck, children who are praised for their effort and hard work will feel confident taking on more challenging work. So instead of telling your child, “You are so smart!” say, “Wow! You worked hard studying for your math test, you reviewed the problems several times, and studied with your friend. Looks like it paid off.”

6. Strengths are a life long pursuit:

Not everyone will figure out their strengths right away. It might take a while. That’s what childhood is for. Encouraging children to take part in different extra curricular activities (within your budget and time frame) is an important part of the process. Parents often get frustrated when children lose interest in karate, art, or tuba lessons, but those are clues. Encouraging kids to try different things without any strings attached, will help you have a happier and more confident kids.

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