February 6, 2024

Building Self Esteem in Elementary, Middle, and High School Students

GoGuardian Team
An image of an elementary, middle, and high school student

If students are suffering from low self-esteem, it can impact everything in their lives from socializing with others to dealing with academic challenges. It can decrease their desire to learn in the short term as well as throughout their entire lives. However, positive self-esteem can have the opposite effect. This is why as an educator, it is important to know how to help a student with low self-esteem develop into a more confident individual.

Importance of self-esteem in students

Because self-esteem and student achievement are directly related, educators would be remiss to underestimate the importance of self-esteem in students. Research has shown there is an appreciable positive relationship between self-esteem and academic achievement. Findings showed positive self-esteem is a factor in determining academic achievement in all students, regardless of gender. Students with high self-esteem generally scored higher in school.

If a caregiver or educator is unsure of how to increase self-esteem in struggling students, activities are a great way to start. Building self-esteem in students may not be something all teachers are familiar with, but an effective method is to use activities that are easy to follow.

Low self-esteem can present itself in a variety of ways, including a noticeable social withdrawal from others, self-criticism, signs of regression, or quitting easily. Exhibiting one or two signs of low self-esteem doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem is present, however. The behavior may be attributed to mental illness or a negative outlook rather than a positive one.

Self-esteem issues in elementary and middle school students

It helps to know what to look for when trying to determine if students are experiencing low self-esteem.

Signs of low self-esteem issues in elementary and middle school students

There are numerous signs that may present themselves in students who may be experiencing low self-esteem, including:

  • Fear of failing or hesitance in situations that may end in embarrassment
  • Lack of interest or motivation, even in things that used to get them excited
  • Avoiding new situations or having a fear of trying new things
  • Trouble making friends
  • Quickly frustrated when things become difficult

Causes of low self-esteem issues in elementary and middle school students

Low self-esteem can arise in students early through everyday situations or troubling experiences. Causes of low self-esteem include:

  • Lack of consistent caregiver support
  • Feeling like no one is there to help them academically
  • Bullying by classmates or older students
  • A traumatic experience happened to them at some point
  • Not feeling like their skills can match up with other students

How low self-esteem issues can affect elementary and middle school students

Years of low self-esteem can affect the developmental growth in young kids and attribute to struggles later on in life. Here are some ways low self-esteem could show up in a young person’s life:

  • More likely to turn to drugs and alcohol
  • Lack of motivation throughout life
  • Trouble establishing and maintaining relationships
  • Anxiety and depression may follow them through the years
  • Failure to pursue goals and settling for less than the best

Self-esteem issues in high school students

With teenage years in full force and the oncoming phase of adulthood, it’s understandable why high school students may experience low self-esteem.

Signs of low self-esteem issues in high school students

High school leads directly into college and/or the workforce, so if self-esteem is low during these four years, it could greatly affect a student’s future. Here are a few main signs of low self-esteem to be aware of that could be present in high school students:

  • Constantly pointing the finger at others for mistakes
  • Lack of interest at both home and school
  • Continuous negativity
  • Feeling like nobody cares
  • Persistently feeling anxious or sad

What causes low self-esteem issues in high school students

There can be several reasons why a high school student is struggling with low self-esteem. It can often seem to go hand in hand with being a teenager.

  • Unfortunately, bullying is quite common in high school and can greatly affect the student for years to come
  • Abuse at home can bring on a lifetime of low self-esteem
  • Changing schools during high school years can be a traumatic event resulting in problems with confidence
  • Mood disorders with unpredictable hormones
  • An unsupportive family can bring on a feeling of worthlessness

How low self-esteem issues can affect high school students

The effect of low self-esteem can inhibit a student’s teenage years significantly. It may bring on:

  • An early use of alcohol and problems with drugs
  • No interest in pursuing their education
  • Poor self-image problems
  • Negativity
  • Trouble sustaining relationships

Activities that boost self-esteem

Self-esteem activities can bolster a student’s confidence over time. It takes more than just saying encouraging words to a student about how they should feel better about themselves. Through activities, the mind is rewired one exercise at a time and the student builds self-esteem, much like they would a muscle. As an educator, you have an opportunity to help students improve their self-esteem by leading them through these activities.

Self-esteem activities for elementary students

Listed below are six activities to use for elementary students to increase self-esteem. Whether led by a school counselor or another qualified professional, these self-esteem activities for elementary students can help improve their mental health.

1. “I am” activity

Have the student paste a little picture of themselves on a piece of paper. Around the picture, they are to write words positive words that describe them. Then ask them to write down positive words other people say about them. Afterward, the student can discuss how each one relates to them.

2. Their “wins so far in life” activity

The child is to list on a piece of paper everything they have succeeded at in life that they take great pride in. This will draw their attention to all of their existing achievements. To continue this activity, they can write down everything they would like to succeed at in life later on.

3. “I’m afraid to…” activity

Children are to write down things they are currently afraid to do. This might be trying out for a sports team, sleeping in the dark, or even taking their shirt off at the pool. Then review what would happen if they actually did these things. It can be helpful to bring a “so what” attitude to it. If they went out for the soccer team, what’s the big deal if they are not the best on the team?

4. Trust activity

It is a big deal to a child’s self-esteem when they realize someone trusts them enough to ask them to do something. Give the student a chore to accomplish every day. It may be as little as organizing the classroom library or as involved as tutoring another child in a subject.

5. “Positive rephrasing” activity

In this activity, the child rephrases his or her challenge statement into a positive statement. This may be something like changing “I have difficulty making friends” to “I am a great friend to those people I care about.” Another example would be changing “I am bad at basketball” to “I try my hardest at all sports, and some I am better at than others.”

6. Self-esteem games

Adults can raise a child’s self-esteem by making it into a game. For instance, with just a pair of dice, a student can roll a number five and then have to say five good things about themselves. Another self-esteem game is having kids throw a ball to one another and asking them to say something positive about the person who catches it.

Self-esteem building activities for middle school students

Middle school is often the time when kids start separating into social groups. For some students, it's a great time. For others, not so much. Here are six self-esteem building activities for middle school students that facilitate confidence in kids.

1. “What are good traits to have?” activity

This activity involves asking middle school students to write down positive traits of students. After creating the list, the teacher and student discuss and analyze which ones they already possess and how they can add the other ones they don’t.

2. “Good comes with the bad” activity

There is something to be said about finding the silver lining in the negatives in life. This activity helps students realize a negative can be turned into a positive. For instance, a student may have earned all Cs on their report card. The positive is they will study harder to achieve better grades this time around.

3. “Conducting interviews in the classroom” activity

Students with low self-esteem seem to think other kids don’t have the same issues they are dealing with. This interview activity will allow them to see the uniqueness in all of us. Pair up students and have them interview one another about their lives. They should ask students about likes, dislikes, family issues, and happiest and saddest moments. At the very least, they will be able to communicate and socialize with others they may not have interacted with in any other situation.

4. “Write a letter to yourself in the past” activity

This activity will enable students to reflect on what they would change about the past in an effort to make the future better. As an example, a student may write she wishes she would have been nicer to her brother. The adult running this activity can point out it's not too late and she can change her ways.

5. “Things I would like to change in the future” activity

This activity is somewhat similar to the previous one, but focuses more on how to change the future in a positive manner. For instance, one thing a student may want to change is to try harder to befriend others. When a student realizes they are making needed changes, their self-esteem will rise. Note: It’s important for the adult not to offer these changes. The student should come up with his/her own in this process.

6. The “write out the end goal” activity

This self-esteem activity is created to remind students it’s not always about how they started out, but how they can improve things and work toward a goal. If they can create and work toward educational and social goals, they will start to feel better about themselves instead of constantly thinking of the negative.

Self-esteem activities for high school students

Is there a more difficult time for students than in their high school years? With hormonal changes and the pressure mounting up to achieve good grades and fit in socially, no wonder teenagers are battling low self-esteem. Rather than let them fall prey to shrinking confidence, here are six activities for increasing self-esteem in high school students.

1. “The things I like about me” activity

The teacher gives students an index card and has them list all of the things they like about themselves currently. This will show them maybe things are not all doom and gloom at the moment.

2. “How will I improve myself from here on out?” activity

On the back of the same index card, the student should list things they would like to improve about themselves. One side of the card is about their positives right now, and on the other side are things they want to improve. They should keep this card with them to remind them about who they are and who they want to be.

3. Class activity of “three things others like about you”

Each student in class is to anonymously write down three things they like about another student on an index card. At the end of the activity, each student will have 20 or more index cards with positivity on each one of them. This will shed light on the positive things others see in them, some of which they hadn’t realized before!

4. “What’s the worst and best that could happen?” activity

This activity takes place on an index card. Students with low self-esteem tend to not take chances in life. They may not ask out the person they have a crush on. They may not try out for the school play because it might be embarrassing. In this activity, the student writes out the worst thing that could happen if they do take that chance. On the other side of the index card, the students write down the best-case scenario for each opportunity. For instance, the person may agree to go out on a date with them, and this could start a real relationship. Or perhaps they will realize they love the theater and want to pursue it further. This activity will show them the risk is worth the reward.

5. “Daily goal setting for the week” activity

At the beginning of the week, have the students write down one thing they would like to accomplish each day. There is something magical that happens when goals are written down on paper for the world to see. The student’s self-esteem will continue to rise as each goal is accepted and completed. Remind the students the goal should be measurable and attainable.

How GoGuardian can help you identify and assist students with low self-esteem

Sometimes low self-esteem can bring on thoughts of self-harm in a student. GoGuardian has created Beacon, a suicide prevention tool that can assist schools in determining which students may be at high risk. Created with assistance from mental health professionals, Beacon can alert school professionals when a student’s online activity could raise concern about their mental health.

This blog was originally posted December 16, 2019 and updated February 6, 2024.