In his classic book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, psychologist Nathaniel Branden suggests actionable daily practices that help establish healthy self-esteem in an individual. Since childhood and adolescence present a critical period for character formation, you are uniquely positioned to nurture this trait in your kids. What makes this task easier is knowing how to incorporate those self-esteem principles into their everyday routines and interactions.
In this article, we condense key concepts from Branden’s insightful book. Towards the end, we hope that you, as a parent or caregiver, have discovered unique ways to ensure your kids have a good dose of self-esteem that contributes to their resiliency and positive life outlook.
The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
Branden’s The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem draws inspiration from the psychologist’s clinical practice and years of study. As the pioneering advocate for self-esteem, he argued that while parents and external support play a role in cultivating self-esteem, young people are fundamentally on their own when putting this trait into practice [*]. The key, according to Branden, is to commit ourselves to its internalization in such a way that would inspire kids and teens to follow our example.
Hence, the keyword “practice” is a persistent theme in all the six pillars of self-esteem. These principles can serve as your guide in transforming your kids’ self-esteem from a mere trait to a way of life.
Pillar 1: The Practice of Living Consciously
This principle emphasizes the importance of being in the present and self-aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It entails shifting from “autopilot” to making deliberate choices in how you live, how you think, and how you speak.
Kids and teens are easily distracted by what is happening around them [*]. Thus, grounding them in the present through mindfulness practices can help them cope with pressures that influence their perception of themselves. A study conducted on high school students revealed that self-reflection plays a role in eliminating negative beliefs about one’s capabilities and even boosts academic performance [*].
To encourage kids to live consciously, you can introduce them to self-esteem worksheets where they can jot down positive things about themselves and the challenges they have overcome. In a way, the prompts resemble a more age-appropriate version of Branden’s “sentence completion”, which he suggested in the book for boosting adults’ self-awareness.
Pillar 2: The Practice of Self-Acceptance
Here, Branden instructs us to acknowledge and embrace all aspects of ourselves, including strengths and weaknesses. By cultivating a positive self-image and treating yourself with kindness, you accept that your value doesn’t lie in perfection, which encapsulates the goal of developing healthy self-esteem.
Teach your kids to practice daily positive affirmations that help boost their self-worth and self-efficacy. Whether in writing or as verbal declarations, this practice positively affects stress reduction, increased well-being, and improved academic performance [*].
Pillar 3: The Practice of Self-Responsibility
This pillar encourages us to take accountability for our actions and choices, no matter the consequences. As an autonomous human being, you should acknowledge your ability to take control of your life as you deem fit. Such awareness helps promote a proactive mindset and a sense of agency in life.
Contrary to common belief, kids and teens can already manifest readiness to take responsibility for their own actions and task completion [*]. Hence, starting them young on accountability through goal-setting and minor leadership roles can further boost their self-efficacy. The success that comes with achieving SMART goals can similarly improve their sense of worth.
Teens can have a higher degree of self-responsibility owing to their maturity and exposure to diverse tasks. Encourage them to document their experiences in the household or their team at school through self-esteem worksheets for teens that include daily check-ins and self-forgiveness prompts. This way, they are reassured of their accomplishments for the day and that mistakes are an inevitable part of life that can serve as lessons.
Pillar 4: The Practice of Self-Assertiveness
Self-assertiveness is about advocating for yourself and your well-being. While it may connote focusing on selfish gains, what Branden implies is that kids should authentically express themselves—their needs, desires, and even boundaries. The psychologist encourages us to act on our convictions and say “no” when it is called for.
However, an exception to the rule is doing so with ample respect for other people’s feelings. You can teach your kids basic assertiveness skills that involve proper intonation, active listening, and emotional control in communication. More than just effectively expressing their thoughts and needs, kids can also cultivate self-confidence in the process [*].
Pillar 5: The Practice of Living Purposefully
Earlier, we discussed “living consciously”. Here, it’s all about giving meaning to daily living through setting goals and tackling them with passion and dedication. Branden encourages us to cultivate a sense of direction among kids by inspiring them to pursue activities and interests that align with their values and personal beliefs. It hinges on the premise that goals must be acted upon lest they end up as regrets in life.
Consider what your kids enjoy the most and set achievable goals around it. For instance, your child is passionate about arts and crafts. Create a goals tracker where they can monitor the progress of their artwork every day until completion.
Goal achievement contributes to self-esteem as it helps kids focus on their strengths and perceived competence [*]. Thus, through goal-setting, you can foster a sense of purpose in their unique abilities.
Pillar 6: The Practice of Personal Integrity
This pillar emphasizes the significance of aligning values and actions in developing healthy self-esteem. Branden reminds us that personal integrity should embody our ideals, convictions, and behaviors as consistently as possible. This means that in every decision-making, we should be intentional yet ethical.
Teach your kids to match what they say with what they do. They should be able to justify their actions with their personal beliefs while ensuring they are aligned with the positive values they cultivated. You can introduce them to educational resources like handouts on character building to instill in them a sense of authenticity.
Interconnections and Integration of the Pillars
Interestingly, although these pillars are standalone principles, they are connected by a common thread: the cultivation of an improved self-worth. It’s either the accomplishment of one pillar leads to another, or the outcomes of a single practice positively impact the other.
Take for example the Pillars of Living Consciously and Self-Acceptance. Practicing self-awareness allows kids and teens to accept both their assets and flaws. The same can be said with Living Purposely and Personal Integrity; setting goals is often aligned with a kid’s ideals and behaviors.
The Bottom Line
Self-esteem encompasses a broad array of principles, as illustrated in Branden’s Six Pillars. While these practices typically apply to adults, you can tailor your approach to make it age-appropriate and achievable for kids and teens. Through the help of self-esteem worksheets and a few practical interventions like goal-setting and communication training, they can navigate school and social life with a head held high and a more positive mindset.
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- Branden, N. (2013). Nurturing Self-Esteem in Young People. Self-Esteem Issues and Answers: A Sourcebook of Current Perspectives.
- Turoman, N., Merkley, R., Scerif, G., & Matusz, P. J. (2017, March). How do kids and grown-ups get distracted in everyday situations?.
- Artika, M. Y., Sunawan, S., & Awalya, A. (2021, August). Mindfulness and student engagement: The mediation effect of self-esteem.
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