Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: How to Teach Both

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According to Merriam-Webster, the terms ‘self-esteem’ and ‘self-worth’ are synonymous, but we are here to tell you differently. Even though the two terms share a prefix, they are in fact different, describing completely separate traits within ourselves. Understanding the subtle difference between the two terms is crucial before we try to instill and teach positive self-esteem and self-worth to our students. Psychologist Dr. Christina Hibbert defines the distinction between each term best when she says:

“Self-esteem is what we think and feel and believe about ourselves. Self-worth is recognizing “I am greater than all of those things”. It is a deep knowing that I am of value, that I am loveable, necessary to this life, and of incomprehensible worth”

(Dr. Christina Hibbert, 2014)

Why is it important to teach self-esteem and self-worth?

Positive self-esteem and self-worth encourages students to set healthy goals for themselves and to generally strive for overall happiness. Research shows that students with low self-esteem and self-worth often have mental health challenges, including issues with their relationships, depression and anxiety, and even addiction. 

How to teach both:

So we know that building positive self-esteem and self-worth is important, but how do we achieve that within our classrooms?

  • Provide opportunities for students to experience success – Students who experience success are more likely to take healthy, necessary risks to achieve more success in the future. Set realistic expectations for students to experience success by incorporating differentiated instruction when you can. It’s also important to emphasize that we all make mistakes and that making mistakes is a part of learning.
  • Provide unconditional positive regard and respect to your students – Showing students unconditional positive regard for who they are and what they are capable of. Use positive praise that emphasizes classroom contributions (i.e., “I’m so glad you shared your ideas with the class”) or character traits (i.e., “I can really tell you put a lot of thought and effort into this assignment”). This demonstrates that students do not  need to achieve anything to ‘earn’ others’ respect, but are accepted and appreciated for who they are as a person. .
  • Model positive self-talk – Comparing ourselves to others or listening to inner critical voices can be destructive and detrimental to a person’s self-worth. Try one of these Positive Thinking activities with your students.
  • Teach students that their worth is not attached to their social or academic achievements: Make the distinction that students will always be valued as unique and important members of your classroom community. A bad math grade or poor athletic skills does not diminish their self-worth.

In the era of social media it is easy for our adolescents to focus on the approval of others and to lose sight of themselves. As educators, we have the power to lay the foundation for our students to develop critical social-emotional skills needed to be healthy and successful members of the community. Above all, we can be that voice that reminds our students that even if they cannot see their own self-worth, that our message is clear— “you are worthy and valuable”.


Everyday Speech has really opened up the social world to my students. The way the skills are modeled in the videos, with students who are just like them, makes it so engaging. My students love that after just a few lessons, they get to play a game to practice their skills. I can’t say enough amazing things about this platform!

– Becky, M.A. CCC-SLP