Does your teen or tween struggle with self-esteem?  Does your adolescent say, “You have to say that.  You’re my mom/dad/grandparent”?

Help your son or daughter build self-esteem the right way with the following strategies.

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What is self-esteem in teenagers and preteens?

I love how Dr. Madeline Levine, author of *Teach Your Children Well, explains the combination of self-esteem, competence, and confidence! I think of it as an equation:  Self-esteem = competence + confidence

Self-esteem = competence + confidence Click To Tweet

Dr. Levine defines self-esteem as “the feeling that one is worthwhile.”  She makes a point that “Self-esteem is not bestowed, it is earned.”


In other words, we can give our children gifts and prizes, but true self-esteem is built through effort when working towards worthwhile goals.

According to Dr. Levine, competence is “the ability to do something well… adapt to different environments… and determine where to put our energies.”  Parents, there are many ways to be competent beyond sports and academics.  Your adolescent may be artistic, musical, mechanical, have strong interpersonal skills (a potential leader!), etc.  It is so hard as a parent to recognize this, especially if your child is very different from you!

Finally, confidence comes out of feeling competent.  It is built on achieving many small successes.

How to Build Self-Esteem in Your Teen or Tween

How to Build Self-Esteem in Our Teens & Tweens

Remember that true self-esteem comes from competence and confidence.  Your adolescent can increase his confidence and competence in the following ways:

Build Self Esteem Tip #1:

Help your adolescent know where her value comes from.

“Who she is,” or her character, is more important than her performance or appearance.  We are human beings, not human doings.

A note about teens and clothes: I have actually said before, “The content of your character is more important than the content of your closet.”  And, we show our daughters how clothing that flatters is more important than brand names.

As Christians, we help our girls understand that their value comes from the unchanging love of God.  They are wonderfully made in God’s image.  I remind our daughters that they cannot control their eye color, nose/ear shape, etc. But, they can control how thoughtful, loyal and kind they are!  Here is one of the best blog posts I have read about having self-confidence based on God’s promises.

Build Self Esteem Tip #2:

Develop a growth mindset in your adolescent.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success, discovered that children who learned strategies to “grow their brains” could do better in school.  Our behaviors, and the behaviors of others, are not fixed in stone.  Behaviors are controlled by our thoughts, but our brains can be physically changed by changing our thought patterns!

From Dweck’s growth mindset idea, we learn to apply strategies, seek help, and attempt to master a concept, rather than just apply effort.  This means that adolescents should challenge themselves (see tip #3) and see setbacks as opportunities (see tip #4).

Unfortunately, when our adolescents experience limiting beliefs about themselves, they often limit their abilities.  Negative thoughts can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This is why a growth mindset is so important!

Once again, I find that modeling a growth mindset as an adult is the most effective strategy for helping our daughters build self-esteem.  For example, on a roofing project, we had to lay shingles in a straight line.  Rather than say, “I cannot draw a straight line to save my soul.  Oh well,” I said, “Since maintaining a straight line is difficult, I wonder if we can use something to guide our lines?”  Then, we discovered the chalk lines used for just that purpose!

Another example is this blog.  Unfortunately, the girls have heard me say that I am not technologically inclined.  As I experienced frustration with the technical side of blogging, I shared it with the girls.  I said something along the lines of, “I may not know how, but I am capable of learning how.  I can take courses and look for YouTube tutorials.  I can even reach out to other bloggers in Facebook groups.” As you (and our girls) can see, the blog is up and running!

Build Self Esteem Tip #3:

Challenge your teen/tween to set goals.

Encourage your adolescent to stretch a little to reach an objective.  However, the goal must be appropriate.  If the goal is too big, takes too long, or is too unrealistic, it leads to discouragement.

Competency grows when our teens and tweens succeed at something that is a challenge.  They must look at where they are and where they want to go. Staying in a place where success has already occurred does not build self-esteem.

Instead, multiple small wins are encouraging. Parents, teach your adolescents to break goals into baby steps.  As they make progress with these small steps, they experience success.  And, this success leads to increased competence and self-worth.

Each time a goal is accomplished, a new “stretch” goal is set and the cycle continues!

Teen/Tween Self Esteem

Build Self Esteem Tip #4:

Help your adolescent turn mistakes into “learning opportunities.”

One way to do this is to focus on the process, not the product or end result.  When we focus on the end result, our teens/tweens look for approval rather than examine the learning process.

This step goes back to the growth mindset.  Not only can their brains grow, but our teens/tweens can improve their learning capabilities.  They have to experience struggles and determine how to overcome them!

No matter the grade on school work, we encourage our girls to understand the concepts.  If one of our girls receives a 100%, but did not understand, she needs to seek help in comprehending.  If she receives an unusually low grade, she should learn from it.  And, anything in between still requires seeking to understand!

Our youngest daughter is learning how she learns best.  From “learning opportunities,” she discovered that hearing herself talk helps her learn!  So, she will sometimes record information on her phone and then play it back.  For whatever reason, she has had success with this style!

Build Self Esteem Tip #5:

Help your teen/tween develop positive self-talk.

“You can’t control what pops in your brain, but you can control how long it stays there.”  – Chris Hogan

Parents, have you ever asked your teen or preteen, “What is going on in your brain?  What do you think about yourself?”  It is so important to teach our adolescents to capture any negative thoughts, kick them out, and replace them with helpful thoughts.  In other words, replace the lies in their minds with the truth.

Even semantics should be reviewed.  It may be okay to say, “I feel stupid.”  Then, parents can talk with their youth about why they may feel this way and look for evidence that refutes these feelings.  It is not okay to say, “I am stupid.”  This description does not allow for change.  I hope the difference in these two statements makes enough sense to enable you to teach your teen/tween!

Dr. Caroline Leaf, a neuroscientist and author of *Switch on Your Brain, explains that “toxic thinking will change your brain wiring in a negative direction and throw your mind and body into stress.” 


Thoughts are physical proteins in the brain.  Purposefully capturing negative thoughts and replacing them with helpful thoughts can actually create new neural pathways as old, negative pathways die out.  Truly, we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds as stated in Romans 12:2!

Build Self Esteem Tip #6:

Encourage healthy habits.

By “healthy habits,” I mean nourishing nutrition, healthy exercise, and appropriate sleep.  These habits work together to balance moods (hello hormonal teens!), energy levels, and strength.  When these 3 are balanced, our teens feel better about themselves!  For more information, my favorite resource for nutrition and general health is Precision Nutrition.

Healthy habits balance moods (hello hormonal teens!), energy levels, and strength. Click To Tweet

Build Self Esteem Tip #7:

Encourage her to be herself.

One of the most freeing things I learned as a young adult is that not everyone has to like the same things.  Parents, encourage your teens/tweens to simply be themselves! Yes, our adolescents may need to discover what they enjoy, but isn’t this what the teen years are for?

I love what Gretchen Rubin shares in *The Happiness Project, “I tended to overrate the fun activities that I didn’t do and underrate my own inclinations.  I felt like the things that other people enjoyed were more valuable… I needed to acknowledge what I enjoyed, not what I wished I enjoyed… If something was really fun for me… I found it energizing, not draining;  and I didn’t feel guilty about it later.”

Not all teens enjoy parties and football games.  Some teenagers prefer to watch movies and play card games.  Parents, this is okay!  Help your teen or tween recognize and accept the activities she likes so that her self-esteem is raised.

Build Self Esteem Tip #8:

Make a difference in the lives of others.

I’m not sure how it all works, but making a difference in the lives of others, increases feelings of competence!  Our adolescents can see a need and recognize that they have an ability to do something about the needs of others!  Plus, they may pick up additional skills along the way.

Our adolescents can see a need and do something about the needs of others! Click To Tweet

By building houses, decks, and bridges for others, our daughters could see the improvements in the lives of others that were created through their work.  The girls also learned to use drills, saws, and drivers.  New tools were a challenge to learn, but with practice, they increased their competence and confidence with the equipment.  They even conquered their fear of heights on these projects!

And, by tutoring through Crossover Mission, our oldest daughter sees how she impacts the life of another student by helping this student understand math and improve grades.  Our daughter also provides accountability and a listening ear.

Build Self Esteem Tip #9:

Give her opportunities to make decisions

Giving your teen/tween the responsibility to make decisions shows that you trust and believe in her.  Decision-making requires taking action that clarifies your teen’s ideas and values.  And, if she makes a wrong decision, she has the opportunity to learn, grow, and try again.  This skill builds resilience which leads to feelings of competence!

Build Self Esteem Tip #10:

Review the way you praise your youth.

Praise effort and character over abilities and performance.  Specific praise is more effective at building self-esteem than general praise.

Imagine hearing, “You used many different strategies to learn all the muscles in the body.  I saw you drawing and labeling diagrams, watching videos, and practicing athletic maneuvers to determine which muscles were firing.  Your diligence helped you be successful!”  Now imagine hearing, “Good job getting an A.”  Which do you think is more helpful?

Final Thoughts

Parents, as much as we want to pave the way for our adolescents, we must keep in mind that ultimately, their self-esteem increases when they work at goals themselves.  It is infinitely harder to allow our teens/tweens to overcome struggles on their own in order to develop confidence and competence, than simply stating “Good job. You’re the best!”  Yet, the right strategies are so much more effective!

Parents, how do you build self-esteem in your teenager or preteen?  And, mentor parents, what worked for you?

For resources I used to write this article, please consider reading the following books.  Thank you for supporting this site by clicking on the picture to use my affiliate link.

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