What Causes Low Self-Esteem in a Child?

The term ‘self-esteem’ is used to describe the way someone feels about themselves. A child with low self-esteem generally feels worthless and like they have nothing valuable to contribute to the world. They might feel like other people’s opinions are more important than theirs or that they can never live up to certain expectations or standards set by other people.

Self-esteem and confidence issues have been discussed frequently in children’s books, with The Lion Inside noting how important it is to believe in yourself. This heart-warming lion and mouse story by Rachel Bright shows that everyone has fears, no matter what their size, but it doesn’t make them any less valuable.

Such lessons are hard to learn, however. So let’s take a look at the causes of low self-esteem in a child and how this can potentially be rectified.

Causes can include:


  • Parenting Style 
  • The opinion you have of yourself starts from a very young age and can be influenced by your parents.  If a child is raised in an environment where there is excessive criticism, verbal abuse, neglect or overly high expectations, they may develop strong feelings of inadequacy or inferiority; like nothing they do is ever good enough. 

Actions have impact too, and if parents regularly model negative attitudes towards themselves, children can imitate this. Equally, a lack of guidance or boundaries can harm self-esteem as children may feel less valued or cared for. While parenting is time consuming, it’s important to listen to your kids and be there for them.

According to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), it’s important to:

  • 1. Be positive and affirming in your parenting style
  • 2. Try not to put a child down when you’re angry
  • 3. Give praise and positive feedback regularly
  • 4. Reassure them that mistakes are normal and an important part of learning
  • 5. Focus on strengths not weaknesses
  • 6. Make sure your expectations of themselves are realistic
  • 7. Respect your child’s interests and conversation topics
  • 8. Encourage independence to help them try new things


CAMHS also recommends avoiding the following:

  • 1. Comparing children to others in a negative way
  • 2. Blaming them for things out of their control
  • 3. Telling them to ‘snap out of it’ if they’re withdrawn
  • 4. Putting children down or criticising them in front of others
  • 5. Ignoring them because they’re quiet or shy


Peer Comparisons 

When children go to nursery and school they will start comparing themselves to others. This can lead to poor self-esteem, especially if their peers are flourishing academically or in sports and the child feels like they are struggling. Again, parental and teacher support is needed here to help a child feel more worthy and confident. The Lion Inside story is a good one to read to children who regularly compare themselves to others as it highlights the value of being yourself.

Bullying or Social Exclusion 

Being bullied or socially excluded from peer groups both in person and online can affect a child’s mental health, leaving them with low self-esteem. Parents should be aware of changes of behaviour and any form of cyber bullying.

The Lion Inside theatre show provides a great opportunity to discuss fear, confidence and individuality with your child. A story about a lion and a mouse that is perfect for kids aged three and above, it is touring the UK this summer. Book your tickets today.