Low self-esteem in children and adolescents

by Anna Kazakova
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Popular, successful, confident, strong, beautiful - that's what any parent wants their child to be. They want their child to have a healthy self-esteem, because we all know how important it is. But often something goes wrong, and the child has complexes.

According to many scientists, the reason for this lies in the genes. However, educators and experts in the field of education see other reasons. They argue that the formation of self-esteem is influenced by a large number of factors, starting from the first years of life. 

So how and when does self-esteem emerge, and what role do parents play in its formation? Knowing the answer to these simple questions, you can avoid big problems in the lives of your children in the future. 

Formation of self-esteem in a child

Newborns and very young children have no sense of self-worth because they do not yet see themselves as themselves. But despite this, even at this early age parents can already lay the foundations for healthy self-esteem in their children.

This becomes possible if:

  • Carefully take care of your child;
  • react when the baby cries;
  • Give your child lots of hugs and smiles.

These warm and responsive interactions show your child that he or she is loved and attracted.

Self-esteem in young children

Toddlers, as they get older (around the age of 2 or 3), begin to become aware of themselves. They already understand what makes them who they are. At this tender age, there are some simple ways to build a healthy self-esteem:

  1. Allow your child to choose between safe and kid-friendly options, such as letting them choose which toy to play with now. Being able to choose gives toddlers an exciting sense of control that helps develop confidence and self-esteem.
  1. Give your child the opportunity to say no. Toddlers need to assert themselves and understand that decisions have consequences. 
  1. Let your child freely explore his environment, but be ready to react at a moment's notice if he needs you. For example, your child may be fascinated by an ant, but frightened when an ant crawls up his leg. Your child needs you to let him know that everything is okay.
  1. Teach your child how to behave in difficult social situations. When confronted with the sharing of toys between the kids in the sandbox, don't stay away. You can say, "It's his turn to take the red cube" or "Good exchange - well done! This will give the child an opportunity to evaluate the correctness of his actions at the moment. 

Preschooler's self-esteem

At this age, preschoolers often like to compare themselves to others and ask who is the biggest, fastest, or best at what they do. You can play a big role in fostering your child's self-esteem and helping them appreciate themselves.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Give your child balanced feedback. Praise your child for trying things or trying new things, not for being "the best. This encourages them to appreciate other people's successes. For example: "Well done for racing and trying your best - I'm proud of you. Let's go congratulate Vanya on his victory.
  1. Explain that losing is part of life. Try asking questions like, "Did you do a good job?" or "Did you have fun?" before asking, "Did you win?" This will show your child that you appreciate him or her whether he or she won or lost.
  1. Play simple board or card games together. Games like these will help your child learn to play together and get along with others. 
  1. Encourage your child to help you with household chores, like setting the table or putting away laundry. This shows your child your trust, which makes him feel good.
  1. Show interest in what interests your child. For example, you could go to the library to borrow books on your child's favorite subject. Or spend time together doing things your child enjoys.
  1. Have family dinners. They can be simple, but they can reinforce a sense of value to children of all ages. When preparing for dinner, each child can contribute by, for example, setting the table, washing vegetables, or making a salad. 

Self-esteem of primary school children

At school, children can compare themselves to their friends and classmates. At this age, self-esteem tends to be related to many things, including how well children do in school, how they look, how they play sports, and how easily they make friends.

Difficulties at school can affect your child's self-esteem because they may feel less capable than others for the first time. At this point, it's important to let them know that they don't have to be perfect at everything in order to be loved and appreciated.

Here are a few ways you can help:

  1. Give the gift of extra love and a hug at the end of the school day.
  1. Focus on the effort your child makes and the courage it takes to try something new or challenging. For example: "I know you were worried about dancing at the recital, but you were so brave that you dared.
  1. Encourage your child to try again when something doesn't go as planned the first time. You can say, "Go ahead and try again - I believe you can do it. 
  1. Maintain a good relationship between school and home by talking to the teacher to see how your child is doing. It's also a good idea to get involved in school life and take an interest in your child's school homework whenever possible.

Adolescent self-esteem

Hardly anyone perceives puberty as a carefree time. Neither parents nor their children would characterize it as a conflict-free stage of family life. Rather, puberty should be seen as a challenge on an emotional and physical level. There is a "reorganization" in the teenager's brain that can leave both parents and teens feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and confused.

Self-esteem during adolescence is often under attack, but don't despair there are several effective ways to help your child:

  1. Love unconditionally. Make sure your teenager can be assured that your love does NOT depend on his grades, friends, college, or any other factor. 
  1.  Leave room for failure. Mistakes and failures can undermine a child's self-esteem and confidence. When you criticize, panic, or gloss over failure, it is a sign that there is no hope for improvement in the future. Instead, take a deep breath and start a conversation with your teen. 
  1.  Help them acquire new and missing skills. 
  1. Provide reassurance. When teens are dealing with the ups and downs of new situations when they are overwhelmed by emotions, it's helpful to know that these problems are normal. Remind your child that he or she is not a "bad person" because he or she refuses a toxic friendship or prefers a boyfriend/girlfriend activity. Growing up and growing up can be difficult, but that doesn't mean your teen is doing anything wrong.

Consequences of low self-esteem in a child

Unfortunately, in today's world, many children have problems forming and maintaining a positive self-esteem. It can happen for many reasons. Today, one of the most common reasons is that children do not do well in school. 

If children are failing in school, they probably aren't getting enough positive feedback from adults or classmates. The feedback they receive is often negative because they are constantly hearing about what they have failed at. Or in some cases they may get positive feedback that is disingenuous.

 This can make them distrust the adults who are supposed to help them. Or they may be wary of children who are supposed to be their "friends.

As a result, they feel less confident in themselves and their abilities. They may not be motivated to try things that are difficult for them, and they have a hard time coping with mistakes. Deep down, they may not believe they are worthy of good treatment or success.

Also the consequences of low self-esteem of children can be:

  • feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety, or sadness;
  • loss of interest in learning;
  • difficulties with communication: it is difficult to make new acquaintances and keep friends;
  • the possibility of being bullied or mocked;
  • withdrawn, being under peer pressure;
  • Inability to stand up for oneself.

These are just some of the problems that can fall on the shoulders of children and adolescents with self-esteem problems. And if not addressed in time, most of them will carry over into adulthood, probably in an even more severe form. 

What to do if your child has low self-esteem?

We have already talked about how parents can help and support their child in a difficult situation. Growth in self-esteem is possible. Being a supportive, realistic, but not overly protective parent or guardian is key. It is also important to ask teachers to be supportive, but to be realistic.

It is important to praise children in a way that builds self-esteem and teaches them to be proud of their efforts and accomplishments. Praise children for their efforts, but don't praise everything they do. Children know when they have succeeded and worked hard and when they have not.

Friendship is also an important part of building positive self-esteem. This does not mean that children have to have a bunch of friends or be popular. Even having one friend who accepts you for who you are can make all the difference. 

Help your child find strengths to lean on.

You don't have to let it go and wait for your child to outgrow a difficult period. If you can't cope on your own, ask for a consultation with a child psychologist. The specialist will give you narrowly focused advice that is specific to your situation and, if necessary, advise you to take a course of therapy that suits your child. 


Although low self-esteem can form in a child for various reasons, it is primarily the parents' responsibility. Keep this in mind from the first days of your baby's life. If something has gone wrong and you notice that your child suffers and evaluates himself inadequately, consult a specialist. The earlier you start to act, the more chances you have to get the situation under control. 

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