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Self-Esteem and You!

Ever heard of something called "self-esteem"? It's a very important part of what makes you who you are. But other kids can't see it like they see the color of your hair or your eyes, or whether you are short or tall. You can't see it either, but it affects how you act and feel every day.

So, What the Heck is Self-Esteem?

To understand self-esteem, let's break it down into two parts. Having "esteem" for someone or something means you think that person or thing has a lot of value. Here's an example. If you really admire your mom for all her hard work at her job and at home, it means you "hold her in high esteem." It's the same as saying you appreciate her or value her.

And "self," of course, is talking about YOU! When you put the two together, you get self-esteem! It means how much you value yourself and the things you do.

The Higher the Esteem, the Better

High self-esteem is the same as good self-esteem. Low self-esteem is the same as bad self-esteem. You should always shoot for high self-esteem. The higher the better!

But what does high self-esteem really mean? High self-esteem is important because it helps you feel proud of what you can do in school or around the house, or when you play. It also gives you the courage to try new things and expect good things to happen. High self-esteem means you like yourself, even if you make a mistake.

When your self-esteem is high, you think positive thoughts about yourself. You value yourself and try to make decisions that will help you stay healthy, like trying to eat pretty well, exercising enough and getting plenty of rest. That way, you'll have enough energy to do all the things you want to do.

What's the Deal with Low Self-Esteem?

Maybe you know a kid who has low self-esteem. This kid might be hard on him/herself–like telling him/herself that he/she isn't any good at math so he/she shouldn't even try. Or, he/she may think that nobody likes him/her and does not expect other kids to be nice to him/her very often.

When you were younger, you might have heard the story "The Little Engine that Could." The story is about a little engine that keeps telling himself, "I think I can, I think I can" when he's faced with a big challenge. The engine is showing high self-esteem, but if he had low self-esteem, he might keep telling himself "I think I can't, I think I can't."

Sometimes a kid will have low self-esteem if others don't encourage him/her enough or if they put him/her down a lot. Other times, a kid's self-esteem can be hurt at school if classes are too hard and he/she begins to think he/she isn't smart. Sometimes, a kid feels bad about the shape of his/her body. The good thing is that a kid's self-esteem can get higher when a teacher, friend or parent encourages him/her.

Some kids with high self-esteem can start to feel bad about themselves. This could happen when a kid moves and doesn't make new friends right away. Or, if a kid's parents decide to get a divorce, the kid might worry a little about whether his/her parents can still do things with him/her like before.

Don't Go Low

Of course, everyone feels low now and then. But having low self-esteem is not OK because it can stop you from doing new things, making friends or trying your best in school.

Having good self-esteem is an important part of growing up. As you get older, you'll keep facing tough decisions—especially when other kids pressure you. If you have high self-esteem, you'll have the confidence to make your own decisions. Although usually it's fun to do what your friends do, sometimes friends decide to do something you don't want to do. Kids with high self-esteem make their own decisions–the decision that's right for them.

How to Help a Friend

Do you know someone who might have low self-esteem? Here are some tips that can help him or her to increase their self-esteem:

  • Remember that people are OK no matter what shape, size or color their body comes in. If your friend is worried about his/her weight or size, suggest that he/she talk it over with his/her parents. They might take him/her to the doctor to make sure that things are all right. A school nurse or guidance counselor is good to talk with, too.
  • When you do active stuff like playing sports or riding bikes, encourage your friend to join you rather than sitting on the sidelines or staying home.
  • Sometimes we need to love and accept things that can't be changed, like skin color and shoe size. Compliment your friend about his/her good points, like, "I wish my legs were as strong as yours. You skate really well."
  • Find a way to tell your friend that you're glad he/she is your friend. You might say that you're glad he/she took a walk with you, or that you like eating lunch with him/her.
  • Ask your friend if it's OK to give him/her a special nickname. If he/she thinks he/she's too short, ask if you can call him "Big Man" or "Shaq." If he/she thinks he/she's too big, ask if you can call him "Tiny" or "Slim." Funny nicknames like these can let your friend know that you don't care what he/she looks like–you just want to have fun and be friends with him/her.

You're beautiful:
Being You is a Beautiful Thing!

Reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Panel, 2006