Self-Esteem, Self-Image, Self-Confidence – Am I good enough?

Being adopted impacts our children in ways we never thought possible. And as I mentioned in last weeks’ post, I have thought about this more than I’d like to admit. Once I began researching the issues related to being adopted I also found many similarities amongst adopted children – their perceptions of themselves and others, their behaviors, their worries, etc.

One of the areas of much research is on the issues surrounding self-esteem, self-image and, self-confidence. Let’s dive in …

As I wrote two weeks ago,“Self-image is how we see ourselves. Self-esteem is how we value ourselves. Self-confidence is the ability to trust our own judgment, qualities, and abilities. A person with a healthy self-image recognizes the boundaries of their autonomy, accepts responsibility for their actions, and knows their boundaries are not fixed. A person with good self-esteem is satisfied with who they are at the moment. A person with self-confidence believes they can become whatever they choose.

Gaining self-esteem is a developmental process that begins in infancy. As a child’s basic needs are met, their sense of worth develops. Long before a child has the ability to process their experiences, if they are well cared for, loved, needs met by primary caretakers, they develop a sense of value, of worth. If not, they develop a sense of fear, knowing there are things in life that can hurt them. Adopted children are particularly susceptible to low self-esteem because of early childhood experiences that may or may not have anything to do with we adoptive parents but it does lead to consistently lower measures of self-esteem.

Many believe adopted children are more susceptible to low self-esteem, poor self-image and low self-confidence because they consistently interpret their circumstance as “being given away”. That primal rejection sets the tone for how they feel about themselves and how they see themselves through the eyes of others. Rejection and loss become a central theme at critical times when self-esteem is developing. “Why did she not want me?” “What is wrong with me?” This deep sense of rejection pervades their developing self-image. Adopted children often view their placement for adoption as a personal rejection regardless of the circumstances of the placement.”

But once again, the important thing here is to ask ourselves how we can help our children develop a positive sense of self (which includes a positive racial identity); a strong sense of their worth and how they add value to the world and people around them and; the ability to trust in themselves to make sound decisions about life and those who they surround themselves with. All of this all begins with having good self-esteem.

There is a great article written by Ken Watson, through Pact, An Adoption Alliance that I keep book-marked. The article is entitled Self-Esteem and Adoption and you can find it at that link.

Ken talks about creating an environment that nurtures self-esteem and outlines several things we, as parents of adopted children, can do:

  • Be consistent in what we say and follow through 

We need to be consistent in our praise, in giving consequences, with rules, etc. We also must be on the same page with other adults that care for our children. Bottom line, never leave our children wondering if there is something wrong with them because we don’t have a clear message about our rules and expectations.

  • Avoid “globalization” 

Parents in general, but especially parents of adopted children (because we already know adopted children typically score lower on measures of self-esteem), should learn to be specific in their praise and criticism. Rather than, “You did a good job washing the car, David,” you might consider saying, “The car looks great, David, and I particularly liked the way you remembered to clean the dashboard.” Instead of, “You did a bad job of cleaning your room, Eleanor,” we might say, “Although your room looks a little better, Eleanor, I expected you to do more than just pile the things from your desk into the closet.”

  • Allow our children choices 

When helping a family plan a Heritage Journey to their child’s birth country, this is one of my number one rules. Let your child pick some activities they enjoy! Being able to make choices helps children build confidence in their judgment. We also need to remember to limit the choices so we don’t end up being asked to provide something that’s impossible or could hurt people or property. But once we allow our child to make a choice, we have to support that choice implicitly!

  • Encourage ability. 

This is another area I talk about consistently with clients. Achievement. Did you know that the number one way to build self-esteem is through achievement? Check out this article in Psychology Today and Judge for yourself, The Key To Self-Esteem. Achievement?
Parents have the ability to help their child become higher achievers. We often help our child build a specific skill set or interest (like sports, spelling, reading, research, even hobbies). When our children develop skills in these areas and we give them a platform to show others their skill, we are helping them build self-esteem.
Sadly, our children will face “self-esteem crises” throughout their lives. But as parents we can turn these self-esteem crises into an opportunity to enhance a child’s self- esteem. In the article linked above, Ken says that in order to do this we must ‘follow these three steps — in order’.
The three steps are:

  1. Accept the child’s feelings of worthlessness.I know how hard this sounds and he certainly doesn’t mean that you should dig on your children. But when a child is feeling pain and despair, we must allow them to own those feelings. Our children must know that we see their pain and understand how difficult what they are going through is. They must know that we empathize with the reality they are living. This is always the hardest step. This doesn’t mean you ignore it, it means you must be able to be a compassionate listener and feel their pain. Give your child a hug during their time of despair. Sit with them and let them know you hear them. If you must talk, tell them you know they are in pain and sympathize with their tumult. Maybe something like, “That must feel terrible”.


  1. Provide an opportunity for your child to build competence through achievement.We should look for opportunities to help our children have successes. This is one reason why I build adventure activities into most every itinerary I design. Often children have fewer fears with regard to trying adventure activities than their parents and they are eager and/or willing to step outside their comfort zone. If you provide your child the opportunity to fly through the jungle on a zip line, they will almost always jump at the chance! And they will likely be better at it than you are. What a sense of achievement that is! So our best bet is to take a few calculated risks and praise their grace, strength and bravado – this will go a long way in building self-esteem. I highly recommend hiking, white-water rafting, zip lining, even practicing a newfound language skill without your assistance! But remember to consult a professional before embarking on any new adventure activity so you’ll know it’s safe.


  1. Reinforce achievement with honest praise.Once you child has experienced the success of flying through the jungle on a zip line, your move is to praise them with sincerity! Feel free to tell them it scared the pants off of you but also tell them it thrilled you to watch them fly! Using your child’s name when you praise them reinforces the sense that the achievement belongs solely to them.

I know how tough it is to follow these steps. Heck, I’m a mom of adopted kiddos too and watching my children despair over failures (or even perceived failures) is an awful feeling. Just remember, when you rush to deny your child’s anguish by giving them immediate praise, you’re doing them a disservice. They first must know that we have empathy for their angst. When our children know we understand that they are in pain, angry, frustrated, sad, feeling unworthy, etc., it builds trust, self-esteem and ultimately a stronger, deeper connection.

If you want to refer to the original post in this series or send the link to others in your circle, you can find it here: How Does Adoption Impact Our Children

And please don’t forget, we’re all in this love story together! I do this because I am the mother of two adopted children. I have all the same thoughts, concerns, issues, and needs that most of you have and I’d love more than anything to hear about your experiences. If you’d like to leave a comment on the post, I’d be honored.

Or if you need support, feel free to set up an appointment to chat with me at

All my best to each of you,

Bambi Wineland is the mother of two internationally adopted children, a traveler, a Certified Professional Coach, and the Founder and CEO of Motherland Travel. Motherland Travel began by designing Heritage Journeys for families with internationally adopted children. The emphasis of those Heritage Journeys has always been on deepening family connections, building self-esteem and cultivating pride in a family’s multi-cultural heritage. Motherland Travel also uses the philosophies of transformative Travel for designing family trips with purpose – building rich connections, with each other and the world! Read more about her here >>

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