Signs of Low Self Esteem in Children

As a parent you may wonder how your child is doing. Self esteem is one of those important things we look at that these days when determining the healthy functioning and well-being of a child. With small children how can we understand what our children need to develop healthy self esteem? On this page you can find information about the following:

  • Causes of low self esteem in younger children (0-6 years old)
  • Development of healthy self esteem
  • Warning signs
  • What you can do to help your child

Causes of low self esteem in children

There are a number of factors which may affect self esteem of children (“Family Front and Centre: A Support Resource Promoting Healthy Child Development”, 2004), these are:

Environmental factors

The family environment is very important to a child. Ideally a loving and secure environment with parents who understand and supply a child’s emotional needs such as love, encouragement, sympathy and physical needs such as food, clothing and a safe place to live will help the child most.

Environmental factors which can have a negative impact on a child include divorce, abuse and death within the family. Basically, stressful events which cause sudden change hold the potential for negative affects while stability and security is positive.

Parents and those in the family who have contact with the child are so important to the development of a child’s well-being. A major part of anyone’s self esteem comes from trusting others and feeling valued and deserving of love, this is something that is experienced and learnt in childhood and then may shape adult life. If parents or others say or do anything to hurt the child either physically or mentally this may cause the child to feel worthless and may destroy the trust he/ she has in others. Neglect and abuse are the most extreme examples of this and can cause life long problems in some cases.

Personality factors

Some children have sensitive natures and they are particularly dependent on those looking after them for emotional and psychological support. Anybody looking after a sensitive child needs to take extra care when dealing with this kind of personality. Sensitive and over-dependent children are hurt deeply if they feel those looking after them are dissappointed in them. They may feel worthless and may learn that how they feel depends on what others think and their main priority can become  to please others. Perfectionism is a characteristic which can develop from the need to please others and this is damaging to one’s self esteem.

Development of Self esteem

The development of self esteem begins in the baby and continues through childhood. It should be obvious that parents and those looking after the baby play an important part in this. Also a child learns from comments others make and begins to value him/ herself (Searcy, 2007). For example, if a child is told he is clever he begins to believe it is true. On the other hand, if a child is told he is bad or useless then he may believe that and his self worth will suffer. If this continues it can affect the child into adolescence and even adulthood.

As above, even from a young age, children can begin to form ideas about their appearance. This often comes from what others tell them. A child may believe she is fat, simply because of a comment someone made without thinking.

Signs of low self esteem in children

  • Problems making friends or social problems with other children
  • Bad behaviour including anger, tantrums etc.
  • Bullying others
  • Other agressive behaviour
  • Depression

What to do to help the child

It is important to help your child to build healthy self esteem.




Articles: – importance of famly, aural self esteem from significant others, children learn value of items and themselves from what they are told, comments.


Searcy (2007). Placing the Horse in Front of the Wagon: Toward a Conceptual Understanding of the Development of Self-Esteem in Children and Adolescents. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp 121-131 – very detailed for diff age groups – height