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How to spot the signs and help your child if you think they have low self-esteem by Nick Harrop, media and campaigns manager at YoungMinds
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem affects how young people feel about themselves and what they do. While a young person with positive self-esteem will generally approach things thinking they are a good person who deserves love and support, and can therefore succeed in life, someone with low or negative self-esteem will generally think they are not good at things, or that situations will work out badly for them.
‘Children can develop low self-esteem following a difficult time, such as divorce, bereavement or being bullied’
We know that it’s normal for young people to experience dips in self-esteem as they go through the many pressures of life – starting a new school, moving house, changes in the family and many other factors. But other children can develop low self-esteem following a difficult time, such as divorce, bereavement or being bullied or abused, and find it very difficult to bounce back.
Alongside this, social media puts enormous pressure on young people to live their lives in the public domain, to present a personal ‘brand’ from a young age, and to seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares. We know that excessive use of social media can have a negative effect on young people’s self-belief and body image. Cyberbullying is also a fact of life for many people, with a devastating effect on self-esteem.
So, what can be done for children and young people with low self-esteem?
It’s vital that those with low self-esteem are supported as early as possible. Teenagers with low self-esteem can find it very hard to cope with pressures from school, peers and society. They are more at risk of developing depression, anxiety, self-harming and other mental health problems as they grow up, and often find the ups and downs of life in general harder to get through.
If you think your child has low self-esteem, there are many ways you can help:
- Show them lots of love and be positive about them as a person – tell them what makes them special to you.
- Encourage them to try new challenges and celebrate them for it. Phrases like ‘Well done, that was hard, and you managed it’ are good.
- Reassure them it's OK to make mistakes and that it's all part of growing up. If you make a mistake, admit it and say sorry, to demonstrate that getting it wrong is not the end of the world and happens to everyone.
- Encourage them to talk openly with you about what they see and do online, and remind them that what other people put on social media doesn’t necessarily reflect their reality.
- Avoid being too critical and don’t put them down – if you are unhappy with their behaviour, say this but make clear that you still love them.
- Acknowledge their feelings and help them express their feelings in words. For example, encourage them to say, ‘I'm upset because...’ or ‘I feel happy when...’
- Use creativity to help your child express themselves – art, drama, music.
- Help children discover and develop their talents, through clubs, groups and activities.
- Make sure your child’s school is aware they are struggling with self-esteem – many have mentoring or buddying schemes.
All teenagers go through ups and downs, but if your child is consistently anxious, unhappy, angry, or withdrawn, take it seriously. Let them know you’re concerned about them and are there if they need you.
Try to talk to them openly, without judging them or rushing to tell them what to do – and if they don’t want to talk, try contacting them through text or email. It can often be easier to write things down than talk face-to-face.
Above all, seek help if you need it. Talk to friends, family, your child’s school, your GP or to the YoungMinds Parents’ Helpline.
YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. Find out more at www.youngminds.org.uk.
Check out our Dove Self-Esteem Project information and advice for parents
The YoungMinds Parents Helpline offers information and advice to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a young person up to the age of 25. You can call us between 9.30am – 4pm or email the Parents Helpline by filling out the online contact form on our website and selecting ‘Parents Helpline.’
Call 0808 802 5544
Free for mobiles and landlines
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: October 2017
Updated: May 2018