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5 strategies for building self-esteem and confidence in school

school children high five each other in a circle
Kelly Gallafant

Kelly Gallafant

The Nurture Meadow

Kelly’s organisation, The Nurture Meadow, supports and proactively encourages the positive emotional Wellbeing of children aged 15 and under, through free resources, private sessions, group workshops and a variety of in-school and community services.


We are almost two weeks in to ‘back to school’ and one thing seems to be clear – each and every child has a different experience of lockdown. Some appear to have thrived and walk through the classroom door painting a happy, colourful picture of life in lockdown. Meanwhile, others communicate that they have struggled being confined to their four walls appearing to carry a heaviness with them.

But, regardless of which side of the fence children are on, one common issue that I have seen raise its head time and time again over the last few days is the detrimental effect that lockdown has had on children’s self-esteem and confidence; many children are often not aware of their worth and appear to have a negative view of themselves.

Children have been indoors and isolated for months. Peer-to-peer interaction has all been via screens, if at all. Talking in front of a group had become thing of the past and home life may have been challenging at times, with many parents having to juggle work and home learning.

Is it therefore any wonder that answering questions, playing in groups and having the courage to raise a hand to voice an opinion, now seems to be hugely daunting?

Before getting too focused on the academic side of learning, let’s support those little characters to believe in themselves again and to develop their self – esteem and build back those confidence levels. Afterall, each and every one has their own unique magic just waiting to be found.


How to build self-esteem and confidence in primary school children

  1. Tease out lockdown successes
  2. Have a regular feelings check-in3rd point
  3. Play team games
  4. Introduce opportunities for children to teach/share their knowledge
  5. Encourage them to get to know themselves


1. Tease out lockdown successes

It might be that they made a cup of tea for the first time, or maybe they made their bed. Perhaps they were able to read a new a book aloud or learnt a new word. They might have cooked their first meal or helped to look after their younger brother. It doesn’t matter what it was but work alongside children to understand what they achieved in lockdown. What did they do for the first time?

Reminding them of their successes, of the courage/determination it took to achieve that success, and of the impact that success had is a powerful, positive message.


2. Have a regular feelings check-in

Children will often feel worried when they notice a big emotion such as fear. Encouraging them to share their feelings not only allows children to feel heard, but also enables them to see that they are not alone; there is nearly always another child (or two) feeling the same way.

It may be that you choose to do this as a whole class at the start of the day, or in smaller groups, but begin with your own feelings check in, and then ask if anyone within the group would like to share a word or visual to describe how they are currently feeling. I love using Emotion tokens to support this activity – they are a fun visual cue, especially on days when children are having difficulty articulating how they feel.

3. Play team games

As we know, interaction with friends and classmates has been limited, so break times can be intimidating for children who are contending with low self-esteem. Guided team games are a brilliant way to help them integrate into the group, whilst building trust and rapport. They are also a wonderful way to help children acknowledge that they too have a lot to offer the group.

There’s lots of options here, but classics such as tug of war and balloon races always raise a smile, or why not try the Talking Tower – a brilliantly fun activity that can be played in small groups.


4. Introduce opportunities for children to teach/share their knowledge

Many children have a favourite fictional character. Some know all there is to know about dinosaurs. Perhaps you know a child who can say the alphabet in Italian, or another who can name 6 types of garden bird. Why not think along the lines of TV’s Mastermind and allow children to share information about their specialist subject with you, or the wider group.

Invite them to take part and allow them the opportunity to be teacher for 3-5 minutes. This could be done in groups or as individuals. Ensure that you provide feedback such as ‘Thank you for sharing that today, I did not know that about Harry Potter’ Or, ‘You have taught me so much about dinosaurs, thank you.’ 


5. Encourage them to get to know themselves

Begin a new classroom ritual and start or end every day by posing one of these questions.

  • What did I do today that I’m proud of? What am I most thankful for?
  • What do I feel was successful today?
  • What can I focus on tomorrow to help my mind to grow?

Prompting the children to explore these questions encourages small steps into helping them realise that they have incredible, unique powers within them. They could discuss, draw, or write down their answer.

You could take this a step further and encourage children to complete their own wellbeing journal. Understanding me – A Mental Wealth Journal has plenty of engaging activities to build self-awareness and self-esteem.

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Hope Education writer

17 March 2021

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