common problems

Low Self Esteem




Self esteem is a way a person feels about themselves. A person with low self esteem generally feels worthless and that they have little to contribute. The development of feelings of self esteem start very early in life. Praise and encouragement from parents or important people in the early years boosts the positive feelings children have about themselves and encourages them to go on achieving. Achievement itself is not enough – love, praise and encouragement are essential elements in helping children develop positive self esteem. All children go through periods of low self esteem, which includes lacking in confidence. This is mainly due to a lack of affirming, positive feed-back from others.



  • What the child has recently been through (e.g. low school grades, being bullied, a family crisis such as parental split).
  • When the child seems more confident, or less confident and what factors are affecting this (e.g. are they more, or less confident with certain people).
  • How you and other workers are relating to the child and how this may affect their feelings of self esteem.


Your own feelings will have a direct influence on the way you approach the child. It’s important to be aware that your own experiences can colour your views and dictate your actions. It’s important that your actions are taken as a direct result of attempting to help the child not as a means of managing your own emotions. Be aware that if you have feelings of negative self-worth, it is possible the child will mirror you.


  • Tend to avoid new and different situations. 

  • Tend to put themselves down – “I’m stupid” or “I won’t be able to do that” (before they’ve tried).

  • Are generally unable to deal well with failure. 

  • Feel their efforts are never quite as good as others.

  • Tend to compare themselves to peers in a negative way. 


      What can you do as a parent/carer?


      WHAT TO DO

      • Be positive and affirming of the child in all situations.

      • Think before you speak, and try not to put them down when you’re angry. 

      • Give praise and positive feedback; children measure their worth by what other people think of them.

      • Reassure them that it’s OK to make mistakes and that it’s part of growing up.

      • Acknowledge their feelings and help them to express their feelings in words.

      • Focus on strengths not weaknesses.

      • Respect the child’s interests (even if they seem boring to you).

      • Encourage independence, to take chances and try new things.

      • Use creativity to help them express themselves; art, drama, music, etc.

      • Make sure your expectations of them are realistic and achievable.

      • Help them feel included in decision making and answer their questions in a thoughtful way. 


      • Avoid focussing on weaknesses and seeing them as a problem to be overcome.

      • Don’t tell them to "snap out of it" if they are withdrawn.

      • Don’t talk to other people about them in a way which emphasises their weaknesses. 

      • Avoid blaming them for something that was beyond their control – let them know if you feel there was nothing they could do about it.

      • Don’t ignore them because they are being quiet or shy.


      When to consider asking for more specialist help



      • If the child’s low self esteem leads to self harming behaviour.

      • If the child becomes extremely withdrawn.

      • If the child starts exhibiting violent behaviour which is unprovoked and out of character. 


      Further support, advice and self-help


      Young Minds gives free, relevant, practical information about a range of mental health issues in children and young people. It has information about feelings and symptoms, conditions and looking after yourself. It also has some specific information about self-harm and what to do about self-harm.

      Minded is a free educational resource on children and young people’s mental health for adults, but can also be really useful for teenagers. It covers lot of topics.

      Relate gives specific advice for different types of worries and problems aimed at young people.