Effective strategies for developing self-esteem in your gifted child

When kids feel good about themselves, they are willing to take more risks academically and socially. For gifted kids, this is particularly important because if they don’t take risks academically, they tend to feel bored and dissatisfied. And socially, they will not make or keep as many quality friendships.

Think of it this way: The more you have, the more you are willing to risk losing. This is true for almost everything, including self-esteem. Research shows that less than half of all high school boys–and only slightly more than a quarter of high school girls–report feeling at least “pretty good about the way they are.” These dismal numbers illustrate the importance of parents understanding the strategies that will effectively build kids’ self-esteem. This article provides simple strategies any parent can use to make it more likely for their children to answer “Yes!” when asked, “Do you feel good about yourself?”


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  • teach kids to serve
  • help kids recognize their accomplishments and contributions
  • find the light at the end of the tunnel
  • assist kids in finding friends
  • encourage kids to take care of pets

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  • praise inappropriately
  • let kids believe that everything is easy
  • overshadow their intuition
  • throw away success symbols
  • dismiss the value of a message

Lisa Van Gemert, M.Ed.T.‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do teach kids to serve

When we serve others, we gain confidence in ourselves, along with a strong sense of self-satisfaction that comes from helping other people. It not only increases our sense of gratitude and well-being, but feeling useful is the best self-esteem booster of all. Kids whose parents guide them in finding appropriate ways to serve are more likely to develop a habit of service that will benefit them for decades to come.

Do help kids recognize their accomplishments and contributions

Often, children don’t recognize contributions they make to their families and communities. Parents and educators can help children understand their true worth when they help them complete the statement, “I was proud of myself when I _____.” The answer should be something concrete and not just a feeling, as well as outwardly focused and not just benefiting themselves.

Do find the light at the end of the tunnel

To children enduring difficult situations, lengths of time that may seem brief to adults seem interminable to children. To 8-year-old kids, a school year is about 10 percent of their lives, so saying it will be better next year is like asking adults to wait for four or five years for a situation to improve. Practical optimism without platitudes is key. Help your children identify the skills and allies that may help the situation.

Do assist kids in finding friends

Friends are key to self-esteem, and parents and educators are in a perfect position to help children find friends. Cousins can be a great place to start, as well as extracurricular activities. Remember that gifted children may be most comfortable with children older or younger than themselves. Practice manners and social norms–such as sharing–to make interactions more likely to be successful. Pen pals also can be a great way to help meet this need.

Do encourage kids to take care of pets

Caring for creatures can build self-esteem because the child recognizes that he/she is crucial to another living thing. Allowing a child to get a pet and then doing all of the work yourself will have the opposite effect, so ensure your child is ready. Find an appropriate pet. Build confidence by using positive language around the child regarding the animal’s dependence upon him/her.

Lisa Van Gemert, M.Ed.T.‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not praise inappropriately

Hollow praise is far worse than none, so make it count. Praise kids for the things they do, not qualities they have. Identify the specific behavior and explain how it helped you or someone else. Statements such as, “I appreciated how you set the table without asking because it helped me get dinner on the table in time for us to enjoy a game together” are more beneficial than saying, “You’re so smart.” Even if a child does not succeed at something, praising effort and persistence can encourage future attempts.

Do not let kids believe that everything is easy

Even expert performers practice, and they practice a lot. If gifted children develop the idea that if they are smart and everything will come easy to them, they will be more likely to quit when something is difficult. Believing that they are pretty good at doing a number of things is a key element of self-esteem, so it is important for kids to develop good practice hygiene by setting mini goals for each practice session.

Do not overshadow their intuition

As gifted children pursue more and more difficult content in the academic arena, their intuition becomes more important, not less. They will be expected to choose among a selection of good answers, one of which is “best.” This is where intuition becomes key. Parents can help build confidence in intuition by asking, “Is that what your gut is telling you?” and then not making them defend their reasoning.

Do not throw away success symbols

As parents, we may not recognize how something that looks like trash to us could be so important to our children. However, by showing kids that we also value the object as a reminder of an achievement can build self-concept. These should be things that represent actual accomplishments on the part of the child. If it’s too large or awkward to keep for long, take a picture of the child with it.

Do not dismiss the value of a message

Notes in lunchboxes, texts during the evening, sticky notes on mirrors and other written expressions of love and appreciation help kids feel valued and special. The messages don’t have to be long or overly sentimental. A simple, “I’m grateful you’re my son/daughter” is sufficient. You can find lots of free printable lunchbox notes on the internet. Adapt the messages to what will work in your family.


Although many gifted kids struggle with low self-concept, simple strategies exist that parents can use to increase self-esteem and improve the likelihood the child will have the confidence he/she needs to succeed socially and at school. Helping children recognize their own true value and how to develop skills will go a long way toward raising children with enough self-esteem to feel good about their place in their schools, their families and their social networks. They will take appropriate risks, and they will be able to enjoy the benefits of an effective self-concept. The strategies to make this happen are simple and straightforward, yet their effect can last a lifetime.

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