Building A Child’s Self-Esteem

Building A Child’s Self-Esteem

Positive self-esteem is the cornerstone for healthy development and forming lasting connections, inter- and intra-personally.  When I first began doing art therapy 15 years ago, I noticed many of my younger clients had difficulty expressing and identifying positive attributes about themselves.


The alternative school I was working at began a school-wide positive behavior campaign that focused on “catching the kids being good” and handed out little pieces of paper praising the child for the “good” behavior/action they demonstrated.  At the end of the week, there was a drawing and a child earned a small prize which all the kids loved and looked forward to!


During this campaign, and along with my art therapy groups, we worked on saying (or drawing) one thing that was positive that day in the beginning of group and at the end of group thanking everyone for being there and participating.


The growth was slow in the beginning of the school year and many kids decided to “pass” when it was their turn to share their positive memory of the day.  The kids also had difficulty accepting their “being good” tokens.  While they were happy to receive them, they concurrently had a hard time believing they were worthy of them.


During the middle of the school year, I experimented with a small group of four kids all elementary-aged.  I created “Bravery Medallions” for each child and wrote why I thought each individual child was brave.  The medallions were bright yellow, decorated, and had colorful yarn so they could wear them around their necks.


As the children came into the art room, I said nothing and placed the medallions around the neck of each child.  I remember them looking at what was written on their own and then scanning the room to see what other kids had around their necks.  The excitement in the room was contagious!


The kids talked excitedly about their medallions and asked each other questions.  They also asked me, the author of the medallions, many questions–“Why did you write that about me?!”  “You really think I’m brave?!”  “How do you know this about me?!”  “Why did you give me a medallion?!”


What was interesting to see was how many of the kids kept their medallions on throughout the school day… and, during the week!  Many of the kids were so proud to wear them and loved showing them to the staff.  And, the staff made a big deal about them too!  Some were so ratty and torn up by Friday that new ones had to be made!


Throughout the year I would surprise the kids with various medallions and I quickly learned to laminate them because of the positive effect the kids had from them.  They literally wore them out!


During a group session, which was an Open Studio day, one of the kids decided to make an “I Am…” medallion all on his own.  Soon, all the kids in the group were making and wearing them!  What was amazing to witness was the growth of each child in that group–to see where their self-esteem was at the beginning of the year to the end of the year.


By the end of the year, these kids were able to internalize and accept the truth of who they were and, at the same time, celebrating the other members in the group!  I believe that the therapeutic rapport in our small art therapy group played a large role in these kids finding strength and acceptance of the “good” in themselves.


The personal messages written on the medallions also encouraged the kids to also open up and begin to trust adults/authority figures.  Many of the kids I serviced in the group were from foster homes and the consistency and individual recognition they received from myself, the agenda, and the group rules all encouraged safety and trust to build.


How to Make A Medallion!

  • Colorful paper or cardstock
  • Markers, crayons, colored pencils, gel pens
  • Magazine pictures, cartoon characters
  • Colorful Yarn
  • Hole puncher


  1. Create your own theme for a medallion.  What do you want to celebrate?   It can be “I Am…”  “Bravery”  “I Like…”  “I Believe…”  “I’m Happy because…”
  2. Assemble your materials and be as creative as you like!
  3. Encourage the child to wear the medallion and proudly display it!
  4. Make a big deal about the medallion!