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Positive self-esteem is fundamental to a healthy, happy childhood. Here we examine what self-esteem is, how to identify low self-esteem, and how to improve it in our children.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem reflects how we perceive and value ourselves. In children, self-image is particularly changeable and influenced by a variety of things, from family dynamics to interactions at school. Positive self-esteem is the foundation of a healthy mental state, while low self-esteem can lead to a range of negative consequences, both psychological and social.

Why is it important?

Children are faced with the challenge of understanding themselves and the world around them and strong self-esteem is like armour against life’s difficulties. It affects everything from academic performance to social skills and the ability to cope with adversity. A child who struggles with low self-esteem can experience anxiety, depression and even social isolation.

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With awareness and the right support, children with low self-esteem learn to see their own values and strengths. This is where we, as guardians, teachers and mentors, play a crucial role.

Symptoms of low self-esteem in children

Recognising the signs of low self-esteem in children is important to provide the right support. Here is a simplified overview of common symptoms:

  1. Negative self-image: The child sees themselves in a negative light and does not feel as good as others.
  2. Challenge avoidance: Fear of failure causes children to avoid new things.
  3. Social withdrawal: They withdraw from others to avoid criticism or rejection.
  4. Sensitivity to criticism: Even mild criticism is taken hard and can lead to strong reactions.
  5. Perfectionism: The child places unreasonable demands on themselves, which creates frustration.
  6. Low frustration threshold: Easily frustrated or upset, especially when challenged.
  7. Self-criticism: The child is hard on themselves for small mistakes or things they can’t control.
  8. Fear of new experiences: Because of the fear of failure, they stick to familiar activities.
  9. Feelings of hopelessness: Sometimes they may express a feeling that there is no hope for improvement.

If you notice these signs in a child, it may be a good idea to seek professional help to give them the support they need.


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Self-esteem in children of different ages

Supporting children’s self-esteem is important throughout their developmental stages. Here is a brief overview of how self-esteem develops from childhood to adolescence.

Early childhood (0-5 years)

Children explore and begin to know themselves. Positive feedback and encouragement are key to building self-confidence and security.

School age (6-12 years)

Children face new challenges at school. Self-esteem is closely linked to achievement and social context, so highlighting individual strengths helps children feel valuable.

Teenage years (13-19 years)

Adolescents search for identity and go through physical changes. Self-esteem is strongly influenced by peers and social media. Open communication and support for independence is important.

Consistent support

Feeling loved and valued is fundamental to children’s self-esteem at any age. Being present and encouraging self-expression lays the foundation for a positive self-image and future.


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What can parents do to strengthen children’s self-esteem?

Parents can strengthen their children’s self-esteem by offering unconditional love, praising efforts rather than just results, actively listening to their thoughts and feelings, encouraging independence, and modelling positive self-image and problem-solving skills. Through these actions, they create a secure foundation on which children can grow and develop a strong sense of self-worth.

Treatment with a child psychologist

Seeking help from a child psychologist is an important step when a child is experiencing mental health difficulties. Depending on the age of the child, different treatments are available. Family Lives is an organisation recommended by the NHS as a good source of support for parents and children. You can call them on 0808 800 2222. Lavendla also has experienced child psychologists who ready to help.

Treatment with a child psychologist is adapted to the child’s individual needs and may include methods such as play therapy, family therapy and group therapy. The aim is to improve the child’s emotional well-being and develop coping strategies. The child psychologist works closely with the family, and sometimes with the school to create a safe environment where the child can learn to manage emotions and behaviours effectively.

It is important to remember that each child is unique, so treatment may vary. Working with a child psychologist can give your child the tools they need to manage their emotions and behaviours in a healthy way.


12 common questions about self-esteem in children

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem reflects how we perceive and value ourselves. In children, this self-image is particularly changeable and influenced by a variety of factors, from family dynamics to interactions at school.

Why is self-esteem important in children?

For children, who are faced with the challenge of understanding themselves and the world around them, strong self-esteem is like armour against life’s difficulties. It affects everything from academic performance to social skills and the ability to cope with adversity.

What are the symptoms of low self-esteem in children?

Identifying the signs of low self-esteem in children, such as negative self-image, avoidance of new challenges and social withdrawal, is crucial to provide them with appropriate support and assistance.

How does self-esteem develop in children at different ages?

Children’s self-esteem develops gradually from early childhood through adolescence, with each phase bringing new challenges and opportunities to support their growing self-image and independence.

What can parents do to boost children’s self-esteem?

Parents can strengthen their children’s self-esteem by offering unconditional love, praising effort rather than just results, actively listening to their thoughts and feelings, encouraging independence, and modelling positive self-image and problem-solving skills.

My child has a high need for affirmation, what can I do?

To meet a child’s high need for affirmation, it is important to give them consistent attention and recognition, while encouraging independence and helping them find strength and value within themselves.

Can children attend psychological treatment?

Psychological treatment is fine for children but is tailored to the age of the child and the issues that need to be addressed. Common methods are talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy that helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to ill health.

What is a child psychologist?

A child psychologist is a licensed professional with knowledge and experience in the well-being and mental health of children and parents. They offer therapy and counselling, but also work with families to support the whole family when necessary. They also collaborate with schools to help create good conditions for the child.

Can I see a child psychologist privately?

Lavendla has several psychologists available with extensive experience working with children and young people.

Can I see a child psychologist online?

Lavendla offers online counselling sessions via video conference. Feel free to book an introductory session through the psychologist profile pages on our website.

Where can I go if I or my child needs help from a child psychologist?

Depending on the age of the child, different treatments are available. Family Lives is an organisation recommended by the NHS as a good source of support for parents and children. You can call them on 0808 800 2222. Lavendla also has experienced child psychologists who are ready to help.

Treatment with a child psychologist

Seeking help from a child psychologist is an important step when a child is experiencing psychological difficulties or if you have difficulties as a parent. Here is a brief overview of what treatment can look like:

First step: Initial consultation where the psychologist assesses needs through conversations with the child and parents.

Treatment plan: An individualised plan is developed, based on the child’s specific situation and needs.

Types of therapy: Common methods include play therapy for younger children, where play is used as a tool for expression and processing, and talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for older children, which focus on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours. Family therapy can also be helpful.

Parental counselling: Parents receive guidance and support to better help their child at home.

Monitoring and adjustment: The treatment plan is continuously evaluated and adjusted as needed to ensure the best possible outcome.

It is important to remember that each child is unique, and therefore treatment may vary. Working together with a child psychologist can give you and your child the tools they need to manage their emotions and behaviors in a healthy way. At Lavendla, we have child psychologists available to make the difficult easier.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.