Can Family Portraits Boost Your Child's Self-Esteem? The Experts Speak.

Family photography is an effective way to boost your child’s self-esteem. Learn why and how it can help. Also learn the best ways to use family photography to nurture your children’s self image. One of the hidden but powerful aspects of family photography that moms and most photographers rarely consider is how it can help you raise children with stronger confidence in their own worth and abilities. Psychologists and experts have done some work in recent decades exploring the link.

I took some time to research interviews with experts in psychology and mental-health therapies across the United States and Canada on how family portraits can help the emotional and psychological well-being of your children.

But first it may help to see what specific research in the past has told us on the subject.

Photography, Children and Self-Esteem: The Murfreesboro Study

There was a revealing study conducted in 1975 with a group of fourth graders at a Murfreesboro, Tenn. school. The study was conducted by Jerry Fryrear of Tulane University and Mary Ammerman with Murfreesboro City Schools.

What The Study Discovered

The children were selected from a set of test results indicating they had self-esteem scores below the median score of all the fourth-grade students. These chosen students participated in a carefully set-up study over the course of five-weeks.

During those five weeks, the children took polaroid instant photos of themselves with provided cameras in a variety of assigned poses, compositions and expressing various emotions. The children worked with the printed images of themselves and created scrapbooks once a week over those five weeks.

Testing of the students and teachers at the conclusion of the five weeks revealed a significant increase of 37 percent in the students’ average self-esteem behaviors as seen by their teachers versus a control group which showed just a 10 percent increase on those same scores.

Here is the link to the study:

Ammerman, M. S. and Fryrear, J. L. (1975), Photographic enhancement of children’s self-esteem. Psychol. Schs., 12: 319–325. doi: 10.1002/1520-6807(197507)12:33.0.CO;2-X

So the Murfreesboro study shows some evidence personal photography of children seen and enjoyed in a specific way can help boost a child’s self-esteem. But can family photography, specifically family portraits, help boost a child’s self-esteem? Here’s what the experts had to say.

In 2020, What Potential, If Any, Does Family Photography Have To Help Boost A Child’s Self-Esteem Today?

Among the experts interviewed it was clear that family portraits are positive for helping children develop self-esteem.

“It’s as important if not more important,” says David Krauss, a licensed psychologist from Cleveland, Ohio. “I think it is really important to show a family as a family unit. It is so helpful for children to see themselves as a valued and important part of that family unit.

A photographer’s job is to create and make the image look like a safe holding space for kids where they are safe and protected. Kids get it on a really simple level.”

Krauss is one of the earliest pioneers in using people’s personal photography and family albums to assist in mental health counseling and therapy. Family photography lets children learn who they are and where they fit. They learn their genealogy and the uniqueness of their own family and its story. When a child sees a family portrait with them included in the photograph they say to themselves: ‘These people have me as part of what they are, that’s why I belong here. This is where I come from.’”

Note: Rather than cite a 40-year-old study and leave it at that (I really tried to find more recent studies but I do have to run a photography studio!) I thought it would be helpful to go back and see what has changed in recent years when it comes to photography as a means of nurturing a positive self-image for children.

When It Comes To Having The Greatest Positive Impact For Your Child, Which is Better, Digital Images or Paper Prints?

Obviously, rather than print and display family photographs, families are increasingly sticking to enjoying the images in a digital form, be it a mobile device, Facebook, Instagram, or laptop. But does an image on a tablet, computer screen or social media site have the same impact for helping families boost a child’s self-esteem?

“My bias is very simple. I think they (family photographs) should be on the wall,” says Krauss.

“I am very conservative about self-esteem and I think placing a family photo someplace in the home where the child can see it every day without having to turn on a device or click around on a computer to find it really hits home for that child this sense of reassurance and comfort. They have a certainty about them and a protecting quality that nurtures a child. It let’s them know where they are in the pecking order and that they are loved and cared for,” says Krauss.

He recommends having photographs of that child with their family placed in the child’s bedroom so it can be among the last things they see before sleep and the first thing they may see before beginning their day.

“It says we love you and care about you. You’re important,” says Krauss.

The importance of printed photographs displayed in your living space was echoed by other experts.

“Displaying photos prominently in the home sends the message that our family and those in it are important to one another, and we honor the memories we have experienced,“ says Cathy Lander-Goldberg, a licensed clinical social worker and a professional photographer in St. Louis, Mo. “I also think it’s wonderful to display photos of family friends and of children with other groups they belong to such as and his or her soccer team. I don’t think the size of the photos matters though. Although larger prints such as 8”x10”s are less likely to be overlooked”.

Lander-Goldberg is the director of Photo Explorations, which offers workshops to girls and women using portrait and journaling for self-reflection. She uses therapeutic photography in her practice.

“Technology has definitely changed our relationship to photographs. Having the family portrait on your phone, Facebook or Instagram page allows for so many more people to see the images, which can be validating for the child. However, I think the immediate sharing makes it less of a priority to get prints made to display and to have as keepsakes in the home and for generations to come,” says Lander-Goldberg.

What Specifically Can A Parent Do To Help Foster Self-Esteem With Family Photographs?

Lander-Goldberg and the other experts recommend taking a more inclusive role with family photographs, be it personal snapshots or professional images. Lander-Goldberg suggests letting children develop their own digital albums from the images they selected. A family can use a digital frame in which the child and their siblings can take turns displaying their favorite family image in it.

She recommends parents take time to look at images together with children and ask questions about what the child sees, what they like or don’t like about the images. This let’s them share their thoughts, feelings and stories the images may or may not evoke from the child.

Another opportunity to help your children benefit from the photography experience is to have them participate in the process before the portraits are created. Have them pick out an outfit, get their ideas for poses and when they would want to have a portrait created.

If you’re hiring a professional seek out a photographer who approaches the photography as an open-minded process that welcomes collaboration and input from the family on clothes, poses and all the little parts that make up a portrait.

For example, mom and dad can have their outfit preferences but it may be o.k. to have an outfit change that is purely what that child wants to wear. It may create a really exciting experience for the children to allow them to pick what they want to do and have input into the entire photography experience.

The experts interviewed believe this gives children a sense of power and control which assists the self-esteem potential of the portraits.

In What Ways Can Photography Help Adolescent Children?

After puberty begins children start building independence from their parents and family. Their sense of family is less important and their peer group becomes even more important. So family portrait photographs showing the child as a part of a family unit spanning several generations doesn’t have nearly the impact.

But photography can still help an adolescent’s development. Having a teenager make their own photographs, be it with a camera or the phone, and having regular conversations with them about who, what, where, when and why of the photographs they took is a great way to help develop their sense of self.

Making time to sit down and ask the one-ended questions about the photographs fortifies communication between parent and child at an age where communication can be strained and difficult. It also lets an adolescent sort through their own feelings about themselves, their changing bodies and how they relate with the world outside of their family.

But even when working with a professional photographer, giving preteens and teenagers the opportunity to have input on what they want to do for a family photograph before the photographs are made, during the photography, and what they want to do with the photographs in terms of albums, slideshows or home decoration.

Naturally, family photography of your child isn’t a magic wand for your child’s self-esteem. “It doesn’t win the battle but it gives you useful ammunition in the battle of creating self-esteem and identify,” Krauss says.

“The child doesn’t know they are learning but they are learning all the values of their family,” Krauss says. “But for a child, in terms of self- esteem, knowing they are part of a bigger picture g