How To Build A Positive Self-Concept

We all want the best for our children. Wanting the best for our children involves us – the caregivers, educating ourselves on how to supply our children with the best tools for their growth. As our child grows, we grow with them. 

What Is A Self-Concept? 

A self-concept is how someone defines who they are. This is defined through attitudes, abilities, attributes and values. 

When four-year-old Beth says, “I am funny. I am bad at throwing. I am a big sister to Sara”, this is a developing sense of self. 

While babies have a basic level of self-awareness, a child develops a sense of self from the age of 2. This is when they can recognize themselves as an ‘I’, separate from ‘you’. 

What Is A Positive And Negative Self-Concept?

Whether a child develops a positive, or negative self-concept depends on how the child thinks and feels about themselves.

If a child feels confident, valued, loved and/or respected – they’re likely to develop a positive self-concept. If a child does not feel confident, valued, loved, and/or respected, they may develop a negative self-concept. 

It’s important to recognize that each child is unique. You are not a bad parent if your child has a negative self-concept. It just means adjustments should be made at home, at school, or amongst the family to create a healthier self-concept. 

Which Self-Concept Does My Child Have?

One way to determine your child’s sense-concept is to keep a record of how often your child says negative, or positive statements about themselves.

If your child mostly says positive statements – they’re likely to have a positive self-concept. If they average more on negative, they’re more likely to have a negative self-concept. 

Check out the table below, to get an idea of whether your child leans more towards a positive, or negative self-concept:

Do they lack confidence in their abilities?  
Do they often say negative phrases about themselves, more than positive?  
Do they get upset over new experiences and opportunities?  
Do they struggle to set reasonable goals for themselves?  
Do they struggle to set goals that challenge themselves?  

If your child scores mostly, or all yes – then it could be that they’re struggling with a negative self-concept. This is not an exhaustive list, and if your child does score mostly yes – it does not mean they have a negative self-concept.

This should be something you discuss further with a professional to help aid your child. It does, however, give you an amateur idea of how your child perceives themselves. 

When you keep your record, look out for positive and negative patterns, to gauge whether your child is developing a negative or positive self-concept.

Why Is A Positive Self-Concept Important?

Having a positive self-concept is crucial, as it relates to a child developing good self-esteem. 

Children with a positive self-concept are also likely to have secure relationships with their friends, and family. Children with negative self-concepts generally exhibit more anti-social behaviour and attitudes and therefore struggle to maintain secure relationships.  

Steps You Can Do to Build a Positive Self Concept 

If your child leans towards the negative self-concept, don’t fret!

You can change your child’s self-concept over time, and you can also involve: your family, your friends, teachers and professionals.

If your child leans more towards the positive self-concept, great! You can incorporate these next steps to help reinstall a positive self-concept in your child.  

Nurture Self-Praise

Self-praise is necessary for a positive self-concept. Teach your children that it’s okay, and good – to give themselves self-praise. Children rely on adults and peers for validation.

By implementing self-praise, your child will not only develop independent judgment but gain confidence in their abilities.

When your child accomplishes something good, ask them how they feel about the accomplishment. Reaffirm that they should be proud of their achievement – and if they’re not proud, let them know that you are proud.

Note the difference between bragging and self-praise. Bragging might be, “I did so much better than Lucy.” Self-praise would be, “I did better than last time”, “I feel good about it.”

If your child is bragging, change the situation to a healthy comparison, “You did great! Lucy did her best at that moment. I hope she feels good about what she achieved too.”

Self-praise encourages a positive self-concept and helps build a healthy self-esteem

Model Self-Praise 

We all know that children learn through imitation.

So, if you intently model your behaviour to reflect self-concept promoting behaviour, your child will begin to copy it. 

Instead of being silent about your accomplishments, share your pride openly with your child. Over time, your child will learn that it is appropriate and acceptable to self-praise. 

You can talk about a specific act you completed, and your feelings towards it. For example, if you and your child are playing with crafts, you can say, “I like what I made. It makes me feel happy to craft.” 

Note that, your behaviour is measured against yourself. Not others. It’s about whether you did good, better, or felt good. 

Nurture And Model Constructive Criticism 

You may find that your child gets very upset over failure. Instead of showing resilience and acceptance, they continuously stay upset, avoidant, or embarrassed. 

Ask your child why they feel upset and acknowledge their feelings. Explain to them that they did their best and failing is how you get better. If your child failed a test, let them know their feelings are valid – and that you can work together to do better next time.

Like how you modelled self-praise, you can model resilience and positivity. 

For example, maybe you’re a great cake baker. You always make good cakes. But, in this instance – the cake you made was burnt and dry. You can exhibit your feelings and attitude to your child in a healthy way.

You can say, “I am sad that my cake is burnt. It makes me feel upset. But that’s okay. Failure is a part of learning. Next time, I can do better. Failing doesn’t make me a failure.” 

This shows your child it is okay to fail, and okay to feel sad about it. It encourages them to be resilient and build a positive self-concept.

Help Set Reasonable Goals

When helping your child set reasonable goals, you need to ensure two things.

You need to have an end-in-view and a long-term objective. The former means your child completes daily, or weekly activities to work towards the goal.

The latter is a concrete goal your child is working towards. Younger children tend to need help picking their goal – to ensure that the goal is theirs, you can give them choices.

Evaluate with your child what their personal strengths and weaknesses are, to work out what goal to set. It is crucial that your child knows that improving refers to improving on their past performance, and that ‘improving’ is not ‘perfection’, it is the willingness to do better.

Maybe the long-term objective is for your child to keep a tidy bedroom. The end-in-view could be that your child needs to put their toys away every night.

Then, it could be increased so that your child puts their clothes away every night. You gradually increase the end-in-view, to reach the long-term objective.

By helping your child set and achieve goals, you are teaching your child that they are capable of I) self-improvement and II) self-evaluation. This helps to build a positive self-concept.


Building a positive self-concept in your child is not easy, but it is important. Even if your child has a negative self-concept, you can work together to create a positive self-concept.