Objective Self‐compassion has been framed as a healthy alternative to self‐esteem, as it is nonevaluative. However, rather than being alternatives, it may be that the two constructs develop in a mutually reinforcing way. The present study tested this possibility among adolescents. Method A large adolescent sample (N = 2,809; 49.8% female) reported levels of trait self‐esteem and self‐compassion annually for 4 years. Autoregressive cross‐lagged structural equation models were used to estimate the reciprocal longitudinal relations between the two constructs. Results Self‐esteem consistently predicted changes in self‐compassion across the 4 years of the study, but not vice versa. Conclusions Self‐esteem appears to be an important antecedent of the development of self‐compassion, perhaps because the capacity to extend compassion toward the self depends on one's appraisals of worthiness. These findings add important insights to our theoretical understanding of the development of self‐compassion.