Good self-esteem is something that can make a big difference to your child’s overall wellbeing, and something they can take with them as they learn and grow. This National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, we want to take a look at some of the factors that can have a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem, so that you can work to build your child up in a world that may seem hell-bent on knocking them back.
Low self-esteem can often become an issue for children as they enter their tween and teen years, even if they had relatively high self-esteem as young children. Pre-adolescence is an especially challenging time for many children and families, and there are a number of interrelated reasons for this.
How Self-Esteem Develops
A person gradually becomes able to do things by themselves as they grow from baby into toddler into child. As they master these skills, they begin to feel good about themselves. When a parent shows they’re proud, pays attention, encourages their efforts and gives them smiles, their self-esteem grows.
It may seem unlikely, but self-esteem is something that comes into play as early as infancy. It’s something that grows and changes over a long time. Just making sure a baby feels accepted, protected and loved can build the foundations for healthy self-esteem. Loving care and positive interactions – which any baby or child should be receiving anyway – are a key part of this.
Telling whether or not a child feels good about themself isn’t always as easy as we might expect. A child with good self-esteem is one that:
- Feels confident.
- Feels that they have skills to be proud of.
- Has a good level of self-belief.
- Thinks good things about themself.
- Feels accepted and loved.
Children with low self-esteem:
- Feel they’re not as good as other kids.
- Ignore their successes and focus on their failures.
- Underestimate their abilities.
- Lack confidence.
- Are hard on themselves and judge themselves harshly.
Perceived Disapproval of Others
Kids will begin to pick up on disappointment in the adults around them if they don’t meet the expectations that are set for them. Self-esteem may remain high if this disappointment is coming from someone the child doesn’t like – such as a less respected teacher – as they are less likely to take this judgement to heart. Low self-esteem may become an issue, however, if the child believes that a beloved parent or trusted coach is disappointed in them. This is what makes parental support so vital in maintaining a child’s self-esteem.
Feeling of inferiority can quickly develop if a child comes to realise that their efforts aren’t always as good as those of their peers. Low self-esteem doesn’t always come about as a result, but it can. Self-esteem is less likely to be affected if the child’s weaker performance occurs in a domain they don’t value, such as sports. Low self-esteem becomes a higher risk if the child struggles in an area they find important, such as academics.
Most children will begin to actively compare themselves to their peers at some stage between the ages of six and 11 years. The reasons for this newfound social comparison are both cognitive and social.
One of the greatest struggles that kids of this age face is brought around by self-comparison. It can be difficult for them to avoid developing a sense of inferiority while building a feeling of industry or competence.
Pressure to Perform
As a child grows and approaches adolescence, performance pressure also grows. Whether an effort is excellent or weak, small or large, children in early and middle childhood will often receive praise. Performance starts to matter more than effort as the teen years approach, and adults come to expect more from kids. This means many older kids will notice adults making the same unhealthy comparisons they’re dealing with internally, reinforcing that pressure.
Why Is Self-Esteem So Important?
Your child is more likely to have the confidence to try new things if they feel good about themselves. They’re more likely to apply themselves fully. They will feel pride in their achievements and cope with their mistakes more healthily. Even if they fail at first, children with good self-esteem will be able to try again. This means their social, school and home lives will generally go more smoothly.
Making a child feel worthwhile and appreciated, warm and loving relationships form the foundation of a child’s self-esteem. Interacting with your child in a responsive, caring way is key to building this relationship. You can also give your child a sense of belonging by building family rituals into your relationship.
Many children will feel unsure of themselves as a result of low self-esteem. They may not join in if they don’t think others will accept them and may fall victim to bullying, which will damage their self-esteem further. Standing up for themselves may be especially difficult.
They may not apply themselves fully in class, or might give up easily, as they know they will find it hard to cope if they make a mistake, lose or fail after making an effort. This means they may not reach their full potential.
By making them feel less capable than others, possibly for the first time, challenges at school can make a big dent in a child’s self-esteem. Conversely, good self-esteem will help a child to make the most of their time at school by helping them to apply themselves fully and authentically.
Read All About It
- Journal of Experimental Child Psychology: The specificity of parenting effects: Differential relations of parent praise and criticism to children’s theories of intelligence and learning goals.
- Journal of Youth and Adolescence: When Mothers and Fathers Are Seen as Disproportionately Valuing Achievements: Implications for Adjustment Among Upper Middle Class Youth.
- Effect of yoga practice on levels of inflammatory markers after moderate and strenuous exercise.
- Brain, Behaviour & Immunity: Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial.
- Preventive Medicine: Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: A population-based study.