In the discussion about self-esteem vs. self-confidence, parents and teachers often use the terms interchangeably. While similar, the two concepts are fundamentally different.
Knowing the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence can teach children to perceive their value and self-worth productively.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem refers to how an individual perceives themselves overall. Etymologically, “esteem” is derived from the Latin word aestimare, which means to “appraise, value, rate, or estimate.” [*] Thus, self-esteem is an appraisal of one’s worth.
Children develop self-esteem when they:
- Progress toward a goal
- Learn new things at school
- Develop friendships
- Engage in activities they enjoy
- Receive praise for their achievements
Children with healthy self-esteem are confident, capable, secure, and independent. On the other hand, children with low self-esteem tend to become withdrawn due to feeling unsure and fearful of rejection. They may give up easily, find it challenging to cope with mistakes, and fail to defend themselves in complex social situations.
What is Self-Confidence?
Self-confidence refers to how an individual projects onto others and is more outward-facing than self-esteem. Confidence stems from the Latin term fidere, which means “ to trust.” [*] Hence, to develop self-confidence, a child must trust their ability to succeed and engage with others.
A child can have high self-esteem and low self-confidence, especially when they experience new things for the first time or engage in activities they previously felt uncomfortable about. For instance, a child with high self-esteem might have low self-confidence regarding public speaking or taking a test.
Common Traits of Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
While they aren’t the same thing, self-esteem and self-confidence are related concepts that share similarities in a child’s:
- Self-perception, or ability to see oneself in a positive light
- Emotional well-being, or experience with stress, anxiety, and depression
- Resilience, or ability to face setbacks and challengesSelf-acceptance, or ability to acknowledge one’s strengths and weaknesses productively
- Self-efficacy, or ability to achieve specific goals and tasks
- Motivation, or desire to pursue goals and strive for personal growth
These traits may vary from child to child, but an adolescent with positive self-confidence and self-esteem typically demonstrates the following characteristics:
- Positive self-image: They view themselves as valuable and worthy.
- Independent: They can make decisions without influence from others.
- Assertive: They are more likely to express their opinions.
- Emotionally regulated: They can manage and understand their emotions well.
- Open: They are curious about new experiences.
- Self-compassionate: They are forgiving toward themselves when they fall short or make mistakes.
What’s the Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence?
Self-esteem is an individual's overall sense of self-worth and self-acceptance, encompassing their global self-perception. In contrast, self-confidence refers to a person's belief in their ability to perform specific tasks or achieve particular goals and is more situational and task-specific.
Overall, self-esteem is a more general and enduring trait, while self-confidence is a distinct and task-dependent belief in one's capabilities.
Interrelationship Between Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
Self-esteem and self-confidence don’t always occur together. A child may be confident in their abilities but have low esteem. For instance, a teenager who captains their varsity football team may feel confident in their athletic skills but constantly doubt their worth.
Self-esteem and self-confidence can also influence each other through mutual reinforcement, as more of one typically leads to developing more of the other. When children have a positive self-view and believe they are inherently valuable, they are more likely to have confidence in their abilities and develop positive self-esteem coping skills.
Ultimately, self-esteem and self-confidence can reinforce or undermine each other, playing significant roles in a child’s psychological well-being and ability to navigate challenges.
Importance of Balancing Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
The importance of balancing self-esteem and self-confidence lies in their synergistic effects on an individual's mental and emotional health and their ability to navigate life's challenges and opportunities effectively.
Achieving a balance between self-esteem and self-confidence makes children more effective decision-makers, less anxious, and optimistic without developing arrogance or cockiness.
Tips for Cultivating Healthy Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
It can be heartbreaking to hear your child express that they feel unworthy. Fortunately, there are many creative and science-backed ways to help your child become more self-loving.
Know How Your Child Feels About Themselves
As a parent or caregiver, it can be frustrating to hear that your child doesn’t like themselves. Knowing why this might be the case can put things into perspective.
Using a self-esteem review worksheet, ask your child to rate specific items related to their self-esteem, such as how much they enjoy trying new things or how they feel when they receive compliments.
Praise Specific Traits
Mindlessly showering your child with compliments can do more harm than good—it might make them feel complacent and unmotivated. Instead, praise specific characteristics, such as their creativity or sportsmanship.
As children develop a sense of self-perception, they become privy to comparison. Through comparison, a child might feel inferior to their peers, making it essential for parents and caregivers to celebrate what makes their child unique.
Ask your child what differentiates them from other kids and whether they like these differences. Then, encourage them to develop empowering self-esteem coping statements, such as “I am human! It’s okay to make mistakes.”
As a parent, it’s natural to want to come to your child’s rescue. However, they can quickly feel smothered and become resistant to organically sharing their troubles with you. Leave room for your child to self-reflect by encouraging a self-esteem journal.
The Bottom Line
As children grow older, they become subject to social expectations that occasionally affect their self-esteem and self-confidence. While one does not always influence the other, developing healthy levels of both can encourage your child to stay curious, nurture their strengths, and work on their weaknesses.
While you can’t hold their hands throughout every stage of the developmental process, you can create opportunities for success by praising them sincerely, providing a means to reflect, and celebrating their differences.
As with any facet of self-improvement, accessing the right tools can help better prepare your child. Browse our collection of worksheets for the right esteem and confidence-building activities to practice at home and in school.
- “Self-Esteem.” Etymonline, 2023.
- “Self-Confidence.” Etymonline, 2023.