The ABC’s of Low Self Esteem in Children: What Can You Do?
Freud is famous for the line, “The child is the father of the man.” Whether you believe this to be true or not, one thing’s for sure, a child’s early life creates some of the foundations of his adult personality. Self-esteem, described as how one values himself or herself, is an essential aspect of a child’s developing years. Here we will look at what causes low self esteem in children as well as some tried and test solutions to the problem.
A child’s self-esteem reflects their own evaluation of their worth. It is also believed to be a strong indicator of future outcomes, such as academic achievements, future interpersonal relationships, and happiness levels.
A child who has good self-esteem is confident and generally satisfied, while a child with low self-esteem is shy, withdrawn, and generally unhappy. So the most important question is, what causes low self esteem in children? Here, we take a look into why it happens, what the signs are, and what you can do as a parent to help your child overcome this debilitating quality.
What Causes Low Self Esteem in Children?
Self-esteem matters because it indicates how a child feels about himself. When a child feels good about himself or herself, he or she is more confident in trying new things, bouncing back from mistakes, and not letting anyone’s opinion or behavior get to him or her.
On the other hand, if a child feels bad about himself, he may withdraw from social interaction, avoid challenges, and are always worried about what other people think.
So what’s the cause of high or low self-esteem and how can you prevent the latter?
A person’s personality comes from two things: his genetics and his environment. A person who has an aggressive temperament may grow up to do criminal behavior if he grew up in an environment where violence is encouraged; but if he is nurtured in a loving, patient, and kind environment, his aggressive temperament may be subdued by how he was raised.
The same concept goes for self-esteem. A child may be born with a natural disbelief in himself, but with the right upbringing, this can be reversed and the child can develop a strong and healthy regard for his own worth.
What are the Signs of Low Self Esteem in Children?
Before you diagnose your child of having low self-esteem, you have to take a good look at his patterns of behavior first. If you think he’s showing low self-esteem for a specific occasion but not in most situations, it may be an occasional occurrence and may not necessarily display actual low self-esteem. But, if you notice his behavior being consistent at all times across all situations, then a low regard for oneself may be happening.
So what are the signs of low self esteem in children? Take a look at the following signs:
- Doesn’t know how to stand up for himself when being bullied
- Overly concerned about what other people think of him
- Has consistent fear of failure – if he knows he’ll lose, he won’t try; he constantly thinks he’s not good enough
- When faced in situations where he knows he will fail or lose, he will resort to cheating or lying
- Quits very early on when he tries a new game, sport, or anything new
- Rationalizes outcomes: if he gets scolded by a teacher, he will say she was stupid; if he loses a game, he blames it on his teammates.
- Has angry outbursts, irrational tantrums, controlling, and bossy – these behaviors are displayed to hide feelings of inadequacy
- Has difficulty acknowledging praise and criticism: doesn’t believe praises and takes criticism as a personal attack
- Experiences frequent mood changes such as crying one moment and angry the next minute
If your child displays most of these symptoms over a period of one month and these signs have hindered several things in his life, such as school, his friendships, and his interaction at home, then your child may be suffering from low self-esteem.
Building Self Esteem in Children
So you’ve already noticed your child may be suffering from low self-esteem, what do you do now? The good news is that there are many things you can do to help your child boost his value of himself. High self-esteem occurs when three things are felt by a child: when a child feels capable, when he believes he is effective, and when he knows he is accepted:
- A Child Feels Capable When: he believes he can do things on his own and take care of himself and his needs.
- A Child Feels Effective When: he believes positive results will come out his actions, efforts, and hard work.
- A Child Feels Accepted When: despite failing, he knows he is accepted and understood by the people around him – his parents, siblings, other family members, friends, and teachers.
These three qualities are very important when you want to develop your child’s self-esteem. Without any of these, your child may be prone to an unhealthy view of himself, which directly affects his quality of life. His own perception about his capabilities and his belief on how he is loved and understood are the major foundations of a strong and high self-esteem.
Self Esteem Activities for Children
Here are some concrete activities that you can do with your child to instill in him a higher sense of worth:
1. Doing Chores Around the House
A child as early as 2 years old can already start doing house chores such as keeping his own toys after he’s played with them. Allowing your child to play a role in the home and take responsibility for his actions create independence and a sense of responsibility. This activity can make your child feel capable and effective.
2. Packing By Himself
If you’re going out of town or even to school or to a mall, let your child pack his own things into his own bag. This gives your child a sense of independence and freedom as he is allowed to bring the things that he needs and wants to take with him.
You, as a parent, can check the bag afterwards and you can then tell your child what he forgot to bring or what he can’t bring.
3. Preparing His Own Food
Your child can prepare his own food, such as making his own pancake mix or sandwich. If the food he prepared is a failure, and you tell him that it’s okay and that he can try again, you are teaching him to accept his mistakes, to not give up, and to keep making an effort until he reaches his goals. This activity will make him feel capable, effective, and accepted – the perfect recipe to boost your child’s self-esteem.
A Note on Praising
One of the biggest issues in children’s self esteems is the issue of praising. Most people think that lack of praise develops low self esteem but this is actually untrue. Praises can motivate and add that good feeling that children get when you tell them they did a good job or that you’re proud of them. But it is not the key to building a child’s self esteem.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t praise your child, it’s not that at all. Praising must be done but used wisely. For example, your child failed at a math test. To appease his sadness, you say, “You did a good job, you’re the smartest person I know. Maybe your teacher got it wrong.” This shouldn’t be said. Instead, you can say, “It’s okay, I know you’re smart. You can do a better job next time by studying harder.”
Praising your child when he hasn’t earned it is telling your child that he doesn’t need to make an effort or that he doesn’t need to work hard. Overpraising leads to your child thinking he is perfect or it will make him want to be perfect all the time, which can be a huge burden for your child to carry.
Teaching a child to be independent, to take responsibility for his actions, and to accept and understand him when he fails, are the best approaches that you can practice so your child can overcome low self esteem and finally boost his evaluation of his worth.