How to Build Self-Esteem in Boys

By Erica Loop
Talking to your son gives him the chance to share his feelings with you.
Talking to your son gives him the chance to share his feelings with you.

Your son may not be as outwardly sensitive or emotional as your daughter, but that doesn’t mean his self-esteem doesn’t need a boost. Your child may feel like he has to fit into the gender stereotype of a masculine male, keeping his low esteem to himself. Even so, with supportive words and honest praise, you can help your son to overcome his low self-opinion and gain the confidence that he needs to succeed.

Always Open and Available

Boys, both young and old, may feel like expressing feelings to a friend isn’t acceptable. That means you need to make yourself available. It’s normal for an older child, tween or teen to choose friends over family when it comes to socializing. That said, your son still needs a safe place to talk about feelings that make him uncomfortable. For example, he may talk to his best buds about the cute girl in chemistry class who has a crush on him, but he isn’t as likely to speak up about how he feels like a failure because he didn’t ace the class midterm. Make sure that he knows you are there for him whenever he needs you. Don’t assume that he knows this. Tell him more than once. As he grows older, remind him that you are still open and available to talk to him.

Boys and Body Image

Even though girls tend to show lower self-esteem when it comes to body image, boys also have insecurities. A study of 14-year-old boys and girls showed that teen boys who are overweight have less satisfaction with their bodies than those who are underweight, according to BMC Psychiatry. Boys, just like girls, also fall prey to the media’s image off the perfect body.

You can help your son to feel better about his body by pointing out the differences between celebrities and reality. For example, if he feels down about his own body when he compares himself to his favorite action star, discuss what the differences are between celebrities and real people. Explain that movie and television stars have personal trainers and may even have plastic surgery to look a certain way. Promote a healthy lifestyle and remind your son that there are many different body types that are normal.

Praise with Honesty

Use praise with a side of honesty. Instead of showering your son with congratulations constantly, be truthful and praise him when he actually deserves it.

Remember to praise your son’s efforts, even if he doesn’t win, get the top grade or reach his goal. Explain that everyone falls short sometimes, and that it’s the path he takes that is important. For example, if he says he’s a failure because he came in third place at the track meet, remind him that he should be proud of his efforts. Tell him that you’re proud of how much he trained and how hard he tried.

Role Models

Act as a role model for your son. If he sees you constantly criticizing yourself or putting yourself down he may follow suit. Males are more likely to choose male role models than female ones, according to the study “The Relation Between Chosen Role Models and Self-Esteem of Men and Women” in the journal Sex Roles. With that in mind, fathers should be particularly careful of how they act around their sons. If a father shows confidence and has realistic expectations for himself, his son may just follow in his footsteps.

Professional Help

If your son’s negative self-image persists, he is always down on himself or everything that you do fails to help him, seek professional help. Mental health experts have the skills and knowledge to help your child find appropriate coping strategies. Counseling also provides your child with the tools he needs to problem solve and see himself in a more realistic light.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.