Signs of low self esteem in children

Developing self esteem is crucial to a child’s happiness, resilience and ability to cope with the challenges life throws at them. It’s important as a parent or caregiver to nurture this with love, support and validation of feelings, which helps children to feel confident about their strengths and dust themselves off after a failure. But how do you know when a child is struggling with low self esteem, and how can it be addressed?


Signs of low self esteem in a child

A child or young person who is feeling negative about themselves will typically show at least one of the following signs:

1. Speaking negatively about themselves

2. Making negative comments about their appearance or abilities

3. Withdrawing from social situations and activities

4. Showing less interest in things that usually engage them

5. Avoiding trying new things or worrying excessively about doing something new

  • 6. Dwelling on mistakes or seeming anxious about them

In severe cases, the child may turn to coping mechanisms like self-harm.


How to address low self esteem with a child

Starting a conversation with a child about their feelings can be challenging, but it can also be a turning point for them. Helping them to feel less alone is a key part of improving their self esteem. Rather than having a ‘big chat’ you can check in with them while doing an activity they enjoy together. It’s also best to start with an ‘I’ phrase, such as “I’ve noticed you seemed upset the other day”. Alternatively, you can try communicating some of your own feelings and see if they respond.

It may not work straightaway, but when the child begins to talk, ensure you validate their feelings with phrases like, “I can really hear that upset you” or “That’s understandable; I’d feel that way too”.


Helping to rebuild self esteem

In addition to providing emotional support and a safe space to communicate, there are things you can do to help a child rebuild self esteem. For example, you might encourage them to identify coping strategies. This may be some downtime to watch a film, go for a walk, write in a journal or bake.

You can also ensure you spend quality time together by planning family days out. This might involve going to the beach, seeing a show at the theatre, or visiting the zoo. Family fun can help children identify things they enjoy and may even result in them finding a new hobby or passion.

Finally, you can model good self esteem. By trying new things and not being hard on yourself when you fail at something, you can show the child that it’s OK to give something a go without expecting to be good at it. Praise their efforts rather than a specific outcome.


Learning about self esteem

Books are a great way for younger children to learn about self esteem. Stories such as Rachel Bright’s The Lion Inside explore themes of fear, courage and self acceptance, and provide a good way to start a conversation. If you’re looking for a family activity to enjoy together, don’t miss The Lion Inside stage show, which uses stunning puppetry to bring the picture book to life. It’s touring the UK until 29 August 2024, so book your tickets today.