Letting your 3-year-old practice skills like brushing teeth can help her feel more competent.

How to Build a 3-Year-Old's Self Esteem

by Kristen Fisher

As a parent, you have a tremendous amount of power when it comes to building your 3-year-old's sense of self-worth. Down the road, friends, peers, coaches and teachers will all influence her self-esteem, some in positive ways and some negative. But these early years offer an opportunity for you to help her build a solid sense of self that will carry her through the rest of her life.

Show your preschooler how much she is loved. Feeling loved and treasured gives your child a sense of security and shows her that she is valued. Make it clear to her that you love her no matter what she does; offer cuddles and kisses not just during happy moments but in the aftermath of tantrums and time-outs to show her that your love isn't dependent on perfect behavior.

Encourage your child to take on tasks and do things for himself. Let your 3-year-old practice brushing his teeth on his own, help to set the dinner table and put his clothes in the dresser. Learning that he can take care of himself and contribute to the household shows him that he's competent and a valuable member of your family. And remember, not every task has to be a glowing success for it to build self-esteem. When your son struggles to fit all the laundry in one small drawer, don't rush to rescue him. Small failures provide an opportunity for him to try a different approach and realize he can problem-solve. If he seems overly frustrated, offer a small suggestion such as, "Hmm. Is there another place those clothes might fit?" then step back and let him carry on with the job.

Give your preschooler your undivided attention. Next time your daughter wants to tell you about her day at preschool, put down the cell phone, look at her and really listen to what she says. You'll teach her that you respect her, and that her thoughts and feelings are valued. Practice the same habit during playtime: Next time she wants to have a tea party, help set up the tea set and put on your best British accent instead of sipping halfheartedly at your pretend cup of tea while staring at the TV.

Praise your child's efforts, not just his accomplishments. Acknowledging that your son is trying to dress himself -- even though his shirt is on backward -- shows him that there's value in hard work, whether things are done perfectly or not. Praise should also be specific and should help your child identify the exact behaviors that are being applauded. So instead of offering "Good job" after he picks up all his toys, say, "Wow, you started cleaning up the first time I asked you, and you even remembered which bins the toys belong in." Not only is this more meaningful, it tells him exactly which actions are being encouraged.


  • Remember, you're a role model for your preschooler, and that applies to self-esteem as well. Avoid harsh self-criticism, and be open with your child about your own feelings, both positive and negative. So when your preschooler sees that you're frustrated because you dropped a plate as you rushed to empty the dishwasher, tell her, "I'm feeling frustrated because I dropped that plate. I think I'll take a minute to calm down, and next time I'll slow down when I'm emptying the dishwasher."

About the Author

Kristen Fisher is a freelance writer and editor with professional experience in both print and online media. She has published articles on a wide variety of topics including health, fitness, nutrition, home and food, and her work has appeared in "Connections Magazine" and on Lifescript.com. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in psychology.

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