Self-Esteem, Play and The Positive Child – Part 2

How do we build and increase self-esteem?

While self-esteem is often thought of as an innate trait, something that one is born withit is not.

After twenty-seven years of teaching children in both general education and special needs programs, I believe that children can acquire a greater level of self-acceptance or self-esteem when given thoughtful, specific direction within a nurturing environment.

In my classrooms and practice, I’ve tried and successfully used a number of techniques to support each child’s self-belief.  A few have proven invaluable.  The three techniques that have been the most beneficial are:

  • The assignment daily tasks to teach independence, which increases self-responsibility;
  • Playing games that build self-confidence; and
  • The constant repetition of these positive experiences, as stated in my previous article (Part 1), to “broaden and build” self-esteem.

These techniques provide positive encouragement, visual reinforcement and the predictability of routines that are needed to build a child’s “sense of self.”1


The child’s home and school environment provide many opportunities to teach self-esteem skills.  Where a child’s home provides the first foundation for growth, the school environment, also contributes to a child’s growth and development.  Noted self-esteem psychologist, Nathaniel Branden, has identified “school” as the “second chance.”

When a child is responsible for a set of tasks such as picking up and putting away toys after play, making thoughtful choices (eating a cookie after dinner), and following the rules of the classroom, the child feels a sense of “belongingness.”  They are in the process of learning independence, responsibility and integrity.

The home and school environment actually provides the child’s first set of job skills.  These basic skills set the tone for higher-level skills (such as being on time, doing a “good job,” and having pride in one’s work) before the child enters the workforce or becomes a member of the greater society!

The difficulty of a child’s job should reflect their ability level.  This keeps the child from feeling overwhelmed and builds in a certain level of success.  To accomplish this in the classroom, I’ve rotated jobs among my students.  Every child in the class tackled each of my classroom jobs at least five times during a semester.

The students began to look forward to the beginning of each week to receive their new assignment.  Before long, they were able to discover for themselves their different ability levels and recognized and appreciated their growing skill levels.  Eventually, they began to identify which jobs were more enjoyable and which were not.

I have found that by building anticipation and interest in each area in order to make these jobs “fun,” I got more “buy in.”  This often meant adding a small change to the routine:  a different pet to the “pet center” or a special container for watering the plants.

The children looked forward to performing their job and improved on how well they were able to do the task.  They were having more positive outcomes than failures.  After a while, I saw signs of independence being evidenced.  The child took “ownership” of their responsibility by tackling the task without being reminded.  Growth was taking place!

Charting daily or weekly progress can become an event.  Be visual!  Stickers, smiles and tokens help memorialize greater efforts and better results.  We are in the process of building self-esteem with these visual objects.

By providing the child with visual and verbal feedback, we are helping them to feel excited about their growth.  This leads to the child anticipating their next task with a joyful, positive attitude.  Over time, I believe that all children are able to acquire self-esteem with varying degrees of success.

(Next – Increasing Self-Esteem Through Games)

1 Brandon, N. (2013).  Nurturing Self-Esteem in Young People

Josan Wright Callender (NBCT ’02 and ’11) loves all topics educational! Including strategies that can help motivate children to be their best.  This passion led her to achieve a double Masters of Special Ed and Special Ed Administration.  She has worked with and encouraged teachers, parents and administrators as a mentor-teacher, teacher consultant, intern-program supervisor, program specialist, and an assistant principal.