Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC
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Kids are very dependent on their families and it is first from the family unit that they begin discovering who they are. Self-esteem in kids starts developing at age five, many claim. As parents, brothers, sisters or friends we can have an impact on a kid’s self esteem and we may not even be aware of the effect a few words or certain behaviour can have. These effects can last for years well after the child has grown older, so this topic needs to be considered very carefully.
As a parent myself, although now my kids have grown up, I know how important it is to bring up children to be self confident and have healthy self esteem. They will need this to be successful and happy in life. More than that, healthy self esteem is essential for good mental health. After having written about how to build self esteem and confidence for many years, and having published a book on the subject, I would like to offer you the facts and give you some tips and advice about self esteem in kids and how to encourage the kids in your life.
Self-esteem is simply how you value yourself. As a general rule, self esteem in kids starts to develop from about age 5. Causes of low self esteem in children include parenting that does not make the child feel loved and secure, isolation, obesity and poor academic achievement.
Of course, as with everything this subject is quite complex and so on this page I’ll try to make it easier to understand and help you understand how what you can do to help build self esteem for kids, and to recognise the signs that a child lacks self esteem and needs help.
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What is self esteem in simple words?
According to Hosogi et al. (2012), self-esteem can be described as a “feeling of self-appreciation” which is necessary for success in life. Without this positive sense of self worth a child may lack confidence and may be unable to cope with the challenges he or she faces. Furthermore, psychological problems can result from low self esteem.
Rosenberg (1965) defined self esteem simply as either a positive or negative attitude towards oneself.
Self-esteem is basically the value one thinks one has as a person. It can change according to events in the child’s life which occur in social interaction with family members, parents, teachers, friends and others. How a child thinks about himself/ herself is not only a result of others actions or words, it is what the child then believes about him or herself. For example, if a child believes he cannot succeed in some way, he may feel bad about himself. Likewise, if a young girl believes she is ugly, she will feel that way. It is the negative feeling and belief that causes self esteem, not the words of others. However, the words and actions of others can lead to negative judgements about oneself causing low self-esteem.
A child’s level of self esteem develops as a result of the environment in which he or she grows up. Many factors can affect the self-esteem of any child, which we discuss in the next section.
What Causes Low Self Esteem in Kids?
There are many potential causes of low self esteem in kids. One of the most influential aspects of a young child’s life is the family, especially the parents. It should be no surprise then that parenting is a crucial factor in the development of the self esteem of a child. Unfortunately, small children are easily influenced by negative parenting methods and this can damage a child’s confidence and sense of self worth.
Obesity in children is a growing problem and is a possible cause of low self esteem. According to Lin et al. (2018), between 1980 and 2013 obesity in children increased by as much as 47% across the world. Most likely the problem centres around the comments that others can make when a child is overweight. These negative comments can be from parents, family members or other children who the child often comes into contact with, such as others at school. It doesn’t take long, if these comments are repeated, to affect the child’s thoughts about himself. Pretty soon a child can develop low self esteem and other psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
Another cause of low self esteem in kids can be parental expectation. Parents can sometimes push their children to succeed. This puts stress onto the child and if the child does not live up to the expectations of the child the parent may express disappointment and the child will feel this. Children naturally wish to impress their parents and if they sense any form of disappointment from them it can make them consider themselves unworthy. This can rapidly descend into internal feelings of inadequacy and therefore low self esteem.
How to Build Self Esteem in Children
“One of the main jobs of parents is building and protecting their children’s self-esteem,”Stanford University Psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Source: Good housekeeping (U.S. ed.), 2010-01-01, Vol.250 (1), p.85
One of the most important things to do to help a child build self esteem is to first test the child to understand the underlying causes and problems behind the lack of self-worth. There are many ways to do this. One way is to use questionnaires to assess what might be behind the feelings of the child. Normally, for self esteem Rosenberg’s test is used but for kids it is a good idea to use one specifically designed for children such as the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory or Pope’s 5 Scale Test for Children.
For parents who wish to encourage a health level of self esteem in their child, the best way to do this is to be a parent who cares, shows warmth and makes the child feel secure. One reason why this is so important may be that it shows children what a positive relationship is and helps teach them how to form closer and caring connections with others. Success in relationships will bring with it higher self-esteem as the child becomes close to others and forms bonds (Yeung et al. 2016).
Take a look at this page for more ideas about parenting and ways to boost the self esteem of a child.
Tips for Raising a Self Confident Kid
Kis have always had to deal with things that affect their self-confidence. A bad haircut, wearing glasses, or even having a different accent than those around them could all cause kids to feel bad about themselves. Kids have trouble dealing with the way they think they are viewed by others. It’s time for a change. Here are some tips to help you raise a kid.
Work on Their Self-Esteem By Teaching Your Child To Learn from Mistakes
It is important that you work on building your child’s self-esteem. As you are your child’s first teacher, you need to discover the things that they are passionate about and good at and proceed to encourage them to pursue those passions. And, as with everything, mistakes will be made. Help your kids understand that making mistakes is how people learn to be better. And, of course, let them know what areas they need to work on without being overbearing and overly critical. It’s better to have an understanding heart when things go wrong than to be a tyrannical monster at each and every turn. This way you can build a good line of communication, thus enhancing your relationship with your child.
Encourage Them to Talk to You And Share Their Feelings Openly
As gross and uncool as it may be to your child while they are growing into their teen years, you should encourage open communication. Having a trusted adult to talk to can make all the difference in the world when times get tough. This is especially true when kids start to deal with peer pressure to experiment or play around with illegal narcotics or underage drinking.
For anyone seeking assistance with this topic or if you are afraid your child might be developing a problem, clinics for teen help near Santa Barbara, (or in your local area if you are not in Southern California) are in place to help people overcome and recover from their substance abuse dependence.
When kids fall victim to these types of activities it can become difficult for them to talk with their family members. And even if this is the case, reassure them that you are just trying to help them make healthy choices. When they feel down on their luck, be the rock they need.
Give Them Support To Help Them Feel Valued and Confident
One of the most important things for a growing adolescent is having a good foundation of support. They need to know that their parent(s) are always in their corner and will have their back in good and in bad times. The role of a parent has many objectives and being supportive is one of them. Raising a self-confident kid takes time and effort but it’s worth it in the end when you see how well they have grown. Lending an ear and giving advice when asked can strengthen the bonds you have with your child. Just be sure to not be overbearing when it comes to your life experiences and lectures.
Know When To Allow Your Child Space To Make Their Own Choices And Mistakes
As a parent, you know some things and yes, your kid can stand to learn a thing or two from you so they don’t repeat your past mistakes. Remember, it’s okay to give advice when your little one comes to you asking important questions. Try to also remember that if you toss out judgment along with your advice, it does get old. Everyone is entitled to their own lives and to live it how they see fit. This is as true for your child as it was for you.
Being a fantastic parent takes some rolling with the punches and embracing the “figuring it out along the way” approach to life. Learn to know when enough is enough and give your child the space they need to soak in any information you’ve provided. Learn to be okay living on standby. When they want or need to know more, they will come back and ask.
It can be overwhelming, trying to raise your kid to have good self-esteem. Just remember: it takes time and effort by all participants. Do your part by providing support, encouraging open lines of communication and letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes. They’ll do their part by learning from you and growing up into awesome and self-assured adults.
- Coopersmith S: The Antecedents of Self-esteem San Francisco: Freeman WH; 1967.
- Hosogi, M., Okada, A., Fujii, C., Noguchi, K., & Watanabe, K. (2012). Importance and usefulness of evaluating self-esteem in children. BioPsychoSocial medicine, 6(1), 1-6.
- Lin, C. Y., Griffiths, M. D., & Pakpour, A. H. (2018). Psychometric evaluation of Persian Nomophobia Questionnaire: Differential item functioning and measurement invariance across gender. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7(1), 100-108.
- Pinquart, M. and Gerke, D.-C. (2019) ‘Associations of Parenting Styles with Self-Esteem in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-Analysis’, Journal of Child & Family Studies, 28(8), pp. 2017–2035. doi: 10.1007/s10826-019-01417-5.
- Pope A, McHale S, Craighead W: Self-Esteem Enhancement with Child and Adolescents New York: Pergamon; 1988
- Rosenberg M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ; Princeton University Press
- Yeung JWK, Cheung CK, Kwok SYCL, Leung JTY. (2016). Socialization effects of authoritative parenting and its discrepancy on children. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 25: 1980-1990
Website Author and Your Guide
Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.