Supporting Children to Develop Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a word that we talk about frequently, but do we really recognise the impact of self-esteem in our child’s life? Do we see the impact of high or low self-esteem on their lives? Or perhaps you’ve started to look at your child in comparison to their peers and begun to worry about how they are feeling about themselves?

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the value we place on our own worth. It is the opinion we have of ourselves. The way we view our worth in the world. It can be positive or negative, and the level of our self-esteem impacts the way that we see the world and the events that occur in our lives.

What does positive (or high) self-esteem look like?

Positive self-esteem can look like:

  • Being able to recognise our strengths
  • Being able to recognise our achievements
  • Feeling positive about life and the opportunities around us
  • Taking chances and opportunities
  • Seeking out things that they enjoy
  • Caring about appearance / health
  • Being honest about self
  • Can spend time alone
  • Ability to say no
  • Being excited about new opportunities
  • Talking about their successes
  • Realistic expectations
  • Bounce back from adversity learning the lessons from it
  • Being authentic
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Take responsibility for actions

What does negative (or low) self-esteem look like? 

Negative self-esteem can look like:

  • Talking about ourselves negatively
  • Criticising ourselves
  • Criticising our ability
  • Seeing ourselves as less able than friends/family/peers
  • Finding it hard to express feelings/thoughts
  • Feeling unable to say no
  • Feeling unable to rise to challenges
  • Feeling incompetent
  • Apologising for their existence
  • Constantly saying ‘sorry’
  • Avoiding things as we believe we will fail
  • Overthinking
  • Always seeing the worst case scenario
  • Hide from others
  • Avoiding new or challenging things
  • Difficulty to make choices
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Reduced academic performance
  • Can lead to – drug and alcohol use
  • Can lead to – self-harm

What causes low-self-esteem?

Self-esteem can be caused by a number of factors, but often begins in childhood. It can be caused by:

  • Personality type – for instance, high achievers can set extremely high targets and consistently feel that they are not good enough
  • Hearing negative messages about ourselves from family or friends
  • Hearing negative messages from school teachers
  • Persistent criticism in childhood
  • Messages we surround ourselves in from social media, television or media
  • Feeling that we do not live up to expectations
  • Ongoing stress
  • Serious illness
  • Bereavement/s

What can we do

Some first steps to supporting children’s self-esteem can be:

Consider the language we use – if you look at the last 24 hours –How often have they been criticised? Told that they could have worked/studied/revised better? How often have you told them that you are cross with them? argued? Now, in comparison, consider – how frequently has your child/teen been fed positive messages? How many things did you praise them for? How many things did you point out that they have done really well? The language we are surrounded with contributes to self-esteem – that starts with us as adults and doing a regular review of how balanced our feedback is. We also need to consider wider family, siblings and teachers – is there balance?

Notice how they talk about themselves – take some time to really listen to your child and how they talk about themselves; their skills, their hobbies, their achievements and how they talk about themselves when things go wrong. How can we help them reframe it – for instance, notice what went well? Their strengths? What they need help with? What they need to practice or try more often.

Model it – how do you talk about yourself? What are you modelling? Do you celebrate achievements? Do you show optimism when things are tough? Do you look for solutions to problems? Do you admit that you need help? Do you talk about yourselves with positivity? Do you identify what you are good at? Do you praise your partner? Do they praise you? How we model language about ourselves as adults helps children understand the world around them.

Encourage children’s strengths – if children have things that they recognise they are good at it boosts self-esteem and confidence, and helps them to look for other strengths that they have. When we have something we are good at, we can also look at how we want to develop and improve which aids determination and motivation. This may be very unique to a child and not necessarily a standard club or sport – do some digging and see what they enjoy/love/are good at and want to pursue.

Connect – children and teens with low self-esteem often feel that they are unwanted/unneeded. Take time to consider if the words and actions at home are feeding that belief system or creating a conflict. Can you have quality time together? Do you listen? Do you interact and engage together? Do you have positive time together that is fun/relaxing? Do you have time to tell them the things you really admire about them? Give them time to talk about how they feel and validate that this is true to them and look for solutions at how you can help them with this.

Further help 

For more articles about mental health visit –

To learn more about child and adolescent mental health visit –

For resources to support child and adolescent mental health visit –

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