The Self-Esteem Bucket: Recognizing, building, and healing self-esteem in kids

Self-esteem is defined as confidence in one’s own abilities or self-respect. We all have self-esteem that has waxed and waned throughout our lives from various life experiences and choices that have lead us to have the belief and confidence we have in ourselves today. To help explain how self-esteem works, follow along with this analogy.

Self -esteem is much like water flowing into a bucket.  How full the bucket is with water is how much self-esteem one has. Everyone’s bucket looks different and we all fill it differently. To build and fill our self-esteem bucket we have to think of a few different things.

What fills your bucket? What kinds of things support positive self-esteem, make you feel good about yourself, and make you feel empowered? Ways to fill your bucket: noticing what you do well, attending to your physical wellness in the form of proper nourishment or movement, mastering a new skill, or helping someone who needs it. All of these things can help us feel good about ourselves in some way.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing we need to consider when filling the bucket of self-esteem. Sometimes things happen that put holes in our bucket and make is exponentially more difficult to keep the bucket full. When our self-esteem bucket gets holes, things that should make us feel good don’t always. What puts holes in your bucket? Past experiences that have given us negative beliefs about ourselves can put holes in our bucket. Negative thinking, being around people who put you down, and doing too much for everyone else are ways you are draining your own self-esteem. Another important thing to consider is worrying about what others think. This is especially draining to the self-esteem, because they are not you and their opinion on your life does not define you. We all have holes that drain us sometimes and can make it difficult to keep and fill ourselves with confidence and self-esteem.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to mend these holes that have happened over time to help keep our bucket full. Mending holes takes time, care, and intention. Change is possible and just because you have felt a certain way about yourself for so long does not mean you have to keep feeling that same way. You have the power to change, make a choice, and choose a different path, and make different choices. Practicing gratitude towards yourself and those around you can help you feel empowered and confident. Being creative and allowing yourself to create freely is a great way to build confidence. Spending time by yourself and enjoying your own company is a great way to reconnect with yourself and rebuild your relationship with yourself in a positive way as well as spending time with friends who uplift and help you feel positively about yourself.

When thinking of how to support a child in their journey and building good self-esteem it is important to remember how one’s behavior and actions influences their idea of self both positively and negatively.

Childhood experiences that contribute to healthy self-esteem include:

  • Being listened to
  • Being spoken to respectfully
  • Getting appropriate attention and affection
  • Having accomplishments be recognized and mistakes or failures be acknowledged and accepted

Childhood experiences that may lead to low self-esteem include:

  • Being harshly criticized
  • Being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused
  • Being ignored, ridiculed, or teased
  • Being expected to be perfect all the time. People with low self-esteem were often given messages from parents, teachers, peers, or others that failed experiences (losing a game, getting a poor grade, etc.) were failures of their whole self

Why is low self-esteem a bad thing? Low self-esteem has contributed to anxiety, stress, loneliness, and an increase likelihood of depression. It can also cause problems in relationships, both romantic and friendship. Academic or job performance can be impaired by low confidence and it can lead to increased vulnerability for drug and alcohol use.

There are “Three Faces” low self-esteem can embody that are important to watch out for as a parent:

  1. The Imposter: acts happy and successful, but is really terrified of failure. Lives with the constant fear that she or he will be found out. Needs continuous successes to maintain the mask of positive self-esteem, which may lead to problems with perfectionism, procrastination, competition, and burn-out.
  2. The Rebel: acts like the opinions or good will of others especially people who are important or powerful don’t matter. Lives with constant anger about not feeling good enough. Continuously needs to prove that others’ judgments and criticisms don’t hurt, which may lead to problems like blaming others excessively, breaking rules or laws, or opposing authority.
  3. The Victim: acts helpless and unable to cope with the world and waits for someone to come to the rescue. Uses self-pity or indifference as a shield against fear of taking responsibility for changing his or her life. Looks repeatedly to others for guidance, which can lead to such problems as unassertiveness, underachievement, and excessive reliance on others in relationships.

If you notice that you or your child are experiencing low self-esteem and you want to help them fill their bucket here are three things you can do:

  1. Rebut the Inner Critic: challenge negative messages from your inner critic, the inner critic can be unfairly harsh, generalize unrealistically, make illogical assumptions, and catastrophize thoughts
  2. Practice self-compassion: treating yourself with the same empathy you show others, forgive yourself when you don’t do all you hope to do, recognize your humanness, and practice mindfulness with emotions
  3. Get help from others: sometimes low self-esteem can make it hard to reach out because you feel like you don’t deserve it but other people can help challenge the negative messages of past experiences. Ask for support from friends, get help from teachers or other helpers, or talk with a counselor

If you or your child wants to talk to someone and receive help building self-esteem, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling services today at (407)443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


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Arielle Teets