Building Genuine Self-Esteem in
A. Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP
and teachers sometimes praise kids too little and sometimes too much. At
either extreme, it does not contribute to genuine self-esteem in
children. Definitions of self esteem vary widely. The Merriam-Webster
On-Line Dictionary defines self-esteem as “a confidence and satisfaction
I prefer a definition that is more relational and contextual such as
“the sense of value or worth that a person derives from contributing to
society or helping others in a meaningful way.” My friend and colleague
Dr. Kenneth Hardy, Director of the Eikenberg Institute for Relationships
eloquently states, “When we have something of value to offer, to give,
to contribute it elevates the spirit. If we have nothing to offer, to
give, to contribute it punctures our spirit.”2
This relational definition also contains a prescription for how to build
self-esteem in children, recognize their valuable and helpful
contributions and to encourage them to give to others in meaningful
ways. Our sense of place, our belonging in a social group is forged and
cemented by what we can contribute.
Researchers have identified “required
helpfulness” as a factor contributing to resilience during times of
extreme adversity. Katz3
observes” required helpfulness” was observed in war-torn Britain during
the constant bombings of World War II. Mental health professionals found
that after the bombings ceased citizens who had helped to protect the
safety and attended to the needs of others, suffered fewer than expected
adverse psychological reactions from the trauma of the aerial
Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary
Hardy, K. V. (2003). Treating violent adolescents.
Presentation at the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium.
Katz, M. (1997). On playing a poor hand well. New York:
Copyright © 2005 by David A.
Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP. All rights reserved.