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A guide for parents Self-esteem

There are many pressures and obstacles that can affect your child's self-esteem. Read our guide for information and advice on how you can provide support.

Father and son smiling and looking very happy together sitting by a wall

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is how a person feels about themselves. Most children will have dips in self-esteem as they go through different stages or challenges in life, and there are different pressures that may affect them - including social media, bullying, exams, family problems and abuse.

Things like starting a new school, moving house or going through changes in the family can also affect a child’s confidence - but with support from parents and other adults they can usually get through this.

Children and young people with high self-esteem often:

  • have a positive image of themselves
  • are confident
  • can make friends easily and are not anxious with new people
  • can play in groups or on their own
  • will try and solve problems on their own, but will ask for help if they need to
  • can be proud of their achievements
  • can admit mistakes and learn from them
  • will try new things and adapt to change

Children and young people with low self-esteem often:

  • have a negative image of themselves - they might feel bad, ugly, unlikeable or stupid
  • lack confidence
  • find it hard to make and keep friendships, and may feel victimised by others
  • feel lonely and isolated
  • tend to avoid new things and find change hard
  • can't deal well with failure.
  • tend to put themselves down and might say things like "I’m stupid" or "I can't do that" 
  • are not proud of what they achieve and always think they could have done better.
  • are constantly comparing themselves to their peers in a negative way

How can I help my child with their self-esteem?

Show your child lots of love and be positive about them as a person – tell them what makes them special to you.

Children can miss out on lots if they don't try because they are too worried about not ‘succeeding’. Reassure them it's okay to make mistakes and that it's all part of life. Let them know that getting it wrong is not the end of the world - it happens to everyone and it's how we learn.

Phrases like "Well done, that was hard, and you managed it," are good. Make the steps small at first, then increase the challenges.

Let them know that it’s okay when people disagree - and we all see things differently.

Try to model being kind to yourself when things don't go the way you wanted them to - and show them that you can have a positive attitude when faced with challenges.

You could ask them to tell you about three good things that went well during their day.

For example, you could encourage them to say, "I'm upset because..." or "I feel happy when...".

When they criticise themselves or their abilities, gently challenge them by letting them know how you see them.

It could help to join a club, group or activity. Finding something they are good at, and realising that they can do new things, can provide a huge boost to their feelings of self-worth.

You could also encourage them to express themselves creatively - for example through art, drama or music. Or, they might like to get involved with a voluntary or community project that makes a difference in the world, which could help them to develop a more positive opinion of themselves.

You can find lots of activity ideas here.

If you'd like more information and advice, download our full guide to self-esteem.

Download our full guide to self-esteem

Finding professional help

If you are worried your child’s low self-esteem is affecting their day-to-day life, relationships or ability to learn and develop, it is worth seeking professional help.

Speaking to your GP and your child's school, and considering whether counselling or therapy might help, are good places to start.

Among other things, your child's school may be able to:

  • link your child with a peer buddy or mentor
  • find a way for them to feel more part of the school community, for example by joining a club
  • think of ways they can structure break-times if they are finding them difficult
  • offer them a new role or responsibility, such as library or book-corner monitor, or learning mentor

You can find out more about speaking to GPs, getting help from your child's school, finding a counsellor or therapist and finding local services on our guide to getting help.

Getting help for your child

Where to get further support

Useful helplines and websites