Self Esteem Activities for Counseling 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Build students up by targeting how they cut themselves down.

When a student struggles to believe in or accept themselves, they are going to limit their potential. Self esteem activities for kids need to focus not just on positive affirmations, but on the underlying negative beliefs the student has.

Think of it like this. Say you run over a nail with your tire. Your tire now leaks. Instead of removing the nail and patching the tire, you only add air to the tire. You still need to fix the problem. Self-esteem is like that. We can say all the positive things, but we also need to work on what's causing us to feel bad in the first place.

Psychoeducation about Self-Esteem

After establishing rapport with a student, providing psychoeducation about self esteem and how it develops is helpful. Informing and talking with the student about their problem helps normalize what they are going through and gives them the language to talk about it.

For self-esteem activities, try the following definition:

Your self-esteem is how you see yourself or your skills at something you think is important.

Discuss different areas (e.g., academics, behavior, social relationships, appearance, athletics) and how they see their competence.

I've used surveys like the Piers-Harris 2 Self-Concept Scale or the Harter Self-Perception Survey to help students better understand how they see themselves and what is important to them. They also make for great pre/post-assessments.

Self esteem lessons

How is Self-Esteem Affected

Self-esteem isn't just thinking you don't look right or are worse at something than others. It is also whether you think those things are important.

For example, I can't do a split or a handstand. I never could. It was important to me when I was a kid, and I felt terrible about myself that I couldn't do it. Other kids just seemed cooler or more athletic because they could.

Handstand skills became less important to me (and everyone else) as I got older. I stopped feeling bad about my poor skills. My self-esteem in this area changed. Not because I did anything to change it but because it became less important.

When students understand how their self-esteem increases or decreases, they will have more control over improving it. It is empowering to know you can change something, and it isn't permanent.

Self Esteem activities - watch me bloom
Self Esteem activities - watch me bloom

Target the Causes

When you determine the underlying cause of a student's low self-esteem, target your activities there. This is where real change is going to happen.

I had a fifth-grade student who was overweight and obsessively talked about how other kids thought she was fat. We took a multi-prong approach. We used CBT strategies to work on reframing the negative thinking. We also made some goals regarding eating and physical activity that were reasonable and healthy. Last, we talked about beauty standards and self-acceptance.


A great way to incorporate social-emotional learning into your classroom is through children's books. Read alouds are likely part of your routine, and so many books highlight social-emotional themes. One

Children’s Books about Being Yourself

Self Acceptance

Another critical component for intervening with self-esteem is to discuss worst-case scenarios and make a plan for self-acceptance.

What if you are overweight, struggle with reading, or aren't popular? What if you never learn to do that headstand?

These are hard conversations. It is invaluable for students to learn to be kind, honest, and focus on accepting themselves.

Self Esteem Activities for Counseling

Self Esteem Lesson and Activities

This lesson focuses on students understanding what effects their self-esteem, determining what areas they do and do not feel competent in, planning to improve valued skills, and recognizing supports.

Positive Thinking Lesson and Craft

Positive Thinking Lesson and Craft

No-prep positive thinking activity where students learn to use positive self talk when faced with challenging situations and their own negative thinking. The printable worksheet and craft will help students create their own positive self talk phrases. 

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ABOUT LAURA
I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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