As parents and carers, we cannot prevent our children and young people from going through some hard times. But we can be a big part of supporting them to develop the self-esteem that makes them more able to cope.
Having good self-esteem is an important part of having good mental health. This is because it helps us to feel good about ourselves and our life, as well being one of the things that can get us through tough times.
Feeling loved, supported and valued by a parent or trusted adult is an essential part of having good self-esteem. So remember how much you’re doing every time you hug your child or young person, tell them you love them, spend quality time together or ask if they’re okay.
On this page, you can find information and advice to help you feel more confident about supporting your child or young person when they’re struggling with their self-esteem.
Building self-esteem takes time, there’s no magic wand. But there’s always hope. It might not feel like it sometimes, but there’s always hope that things will get better.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem means the way we think and feel about ourselves. When we have good or high self-esteem, we:
- feel good about who we are most of the time
- believe in ourselves, and our qualities and strengths
- believe we are worthy and deserving of all the good things in life, including love, kind friends and fun experiences
Having good self-esteem is not about being happy all the time, or always feeling confident. We all have bad days and negative thoughts sometimes. But when we have good self-esteem, we’re more able to move on from these feelings by being kind to ourselves and asking for support.
- having a generally positive image of yourself
- believing you matter
- feeling confident about your strengths
- feeling proud of your achievements
- not feeling too worried or upset about things you cannot do so well
- believing you have good things to offer other people – for example believing you are a kind, good or interesting friend
- believing your opinions and views matter, and are worth hearing
- feeling able to try new things or give something a go
- having a kind and understanding inner voice when things go wrong
- being kind to yourself when you’re having a hard time, including doing self-care and giving yourself a break
- feeling positive or comfortable most of the time about your body and how it looks
- having a more negative image of yourself – you might sometimes feel bad, ugly, unlikeable or stupid
- having a lack of confidence in your qualities and strengths, or feeling you’re not good enough
- finding it difficult to feel proud of things, or often feeling you should have done better
- having a more negative inner voice when things are hard – for example telling yourself you ‘should not’ have made a mistake
- feeling more cautious about doing new things or giving something a go
- putting yourself down, for example by saying ‘I’m stupid’ or ‘I can’t do that’
- comparing yourself to others in a negative way
- feeling negative or uncomfortable about your body and how it looks
- doubting whether you are worthy and deserving of being valued, listened to, loved or cared for
What causes low self-esteem?
Your child or young person’s self-esteem will naturally go through ups and downs at different points. Going through big changes like starting a new school or moving to a new area can affect a child’s confidence. But with support, they can usually get through this and feel okay again.
Sometimes, however, a child or young person can experience low self-esteem over a longer period of time. This can make it harder for them to look after their mental health. It may leave them struggling with things like low mood or anxiety.
This can happen when a young person hears negative messages about themselves from other people. These could come from a parent, relative, peer, teacher, sibling or through social media. These messages can have a big impact because a young person develops their opinion of themselves through the way they are treated in their relationships. This is especially true while they’re still growing up.
The types of messages that damage self-esteem include:
- being called labels or names like ‘naughty’, ‘stupid’, ‘ugly’, ‘bad’ or ‘weird’
- being criticised when you make mistakes
- being put under too much pressure to succeed or do everything well, or only being noticed when you achieve something
- seeing lots of images about what a ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’ person looks like, when this person looks different to you
- being told off when you struggle with schoolwork
This can include:
Signs your child or young person is struggling with their self-esteem
If your child or young person is feeling low about themselves, these are some of the signs you might notice:
- saying negative things about themselves
- making negative comments about their appearance
- making negative comments about things they’ve done, for example at school
- comparing themselves negatively to other people
- withdrawing – for example avoiding social situations and activities
- seeming low in their mood – for example, showing less interest in things
- avoiding trying new things, or worrying a lot about doing something new
- seeming very anxious when they make a mistake, or not being able to move on from it
- giving themselves a hard time when things don’t go as planned
- turning to coping mechanisms like self-harm
Talking to your child or young person about what’s going on
As a parent or carer, starting a conversation with your child or young person can sometimes feel like the hardest bit. But it can also be a bit of a turning point. Talking things through can help them to feel less alone. And once you know what’s going on, you’re in a better position to help. So even though it can feel difficult, it is important to try gently checking in with your child or young person when you see that they’re struggling.
Here are some tips for starting a conversation:
Check in while doing an activity together
This can help them to relax by making it feel like less of a ‘big chat’. You could go for a walk, cook or bake, or do something creative together.
Start with an ‘I’ phrase
For example you could say:
- 'I’ve noticed that you’re staying in your room a lot at the moment. Is everything okay?'
- 'I thought you seemed kind of upset the other day. Is there anything going on?'
- 'I’ve been thinking about how upset you were last night about your homework. Can we have a chat about it?'
Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work straightaway
Remember not to give up if they don’t want to talk the first or second time you try. Keep giving them opportunities and let them know you’re there when they’re ready. If they cannot talk in person at the moment, you could try texting or writing a letter instead.
When your child or young person does talk, try to:
Focus on listening and understanding it from their perspective
Avoid trying to fix everything straightaway or getting them to take a particular action. This can leave them feeling pressured or judged. Instead, empathise with how things are feeling, and let them know it’s understandable to feel the way they do. You can find more tips for making your child or young person feel really listened to in our blog.
Help them to understand their feelings, and show you accept them without judgement
Knowing that you’re on their side, and that you will not judge them, helps them feel more okay about finding things hard. If they find it hard to express their feelings, it can help when you wonder aloud about what might be happening. For example you could say, ‘I’m wondering if you might be feeling upset/worried/sad because…’
Validate their feelings. You could say, ‘it’s understandable that you feel like … Anyone would feel like that in your situation’. This gives them the message that they can open up to you – that you’re prepared to sit with that difficult feeling and that they are not alone in feeling that way.
Recognise how important it is that they’re verbalising their feelings by talking to you about it, and how that is a very brave step towards feeling better.
Social media and other online activities like gaming can be an opportunity to connect, learn, socialise and have fun. But they can also be spaces where young people hear negative messages about themselves or experience bullying. Young people can also see content that leaves them comparing themselves to others or feeling bad about themselves. Try to have regular conversations about social media, gaming and the internet as part of everyday life. Be curious about how your child or young person feels during and after spending time online and talk through any difficult issues that come up.
If this is an issue at the moment, your child or young person can use our guide to social media to help them create more positive spaces for themselves online.
Helping your child or young person to build their self-esteem
Alongside talking and providing emotional support, there are things you can do to help your child or young person improve their self-esteem.
As you think about strategies you might want to try, always remind yourself you’re doing your best. It’s natural to feel a bit overwhelmed sometimes, or to feel guilty as parents or carers about what we’re not doing. Remember that modelling good self-esteem is really important. That means not expecting yourself to be perfect or giving yourself a hard time either.
Have a look through these suggestions and pick one or two things you think might help. Trust yourself to know what suits your child or young person best in terms of their individual needs and where they’re at.
Try to focus on specific things you notice about them. This is better than general praise like telling them they are ‘good’. Being specific helps them to notice their strengths, which can boost their self-esteem.
What this might look like in real life: ‘You were so kind and supportive to your friend when they were having a hard time this week’.
Asking them to help you with something, like setting up something technical, shows them what they’re good at. You can say, you’re really good at this, can you show me how to do it?
Feeling good about who they are, and believing it’s okay to be themselves, is so important for their wellbeing. Remember that having good self-esteem is not about always feeling happy, or having the same interests as other people at school. Try to avoid having assumptions about what they ‘should’ be doing. Support them to get to know what they do and don’t like. Let them know it’s okay to find things hard sometimes. This is part of being human.
What this might look like in real life: When you have a family meal, be curious about what they’re interested in. Ask them what they think about music, films, the news, social media or one of their hobbies. Get them to teach you about their interests and show how much you value their opinion.
When you notice them criticising themselves or their abilities, gently challenge them by letting them know you do not see them that way. Then offer specific examples of how you do see them.
What this might look like in real life: ‘I hear that it feels like you’re no good at stuff at school at the moment. But I really don’t agree that you’re rubbish at everything. Remember the other day when you helped your younger sister with their homework? I didn’t understand it myself, but you were a great teacher.’
If someone has said something unkind to them, ask them gently whether what that person has said is factual, or just their opinion? Do they have to accept their opinion? Have they earned the right to have an opinion?
If your child or young person is feeling low about themselves, it can really help for them to find some coping strategies. These will be different for everyone. It could be walking or exercising, watching a favourite film, writing, drawing, spending time in nature or something else. Knowing what these things are can be really empowering, which can help them to feel better about themselves. They can use our young person’s guide to self-care to get started.
What this might look like in real life: ‘I noticed how calm you seemed yesterday after you’d gone for a walk with your headphones. It seemed like that really helped’.
This is a way of showing you care about them. It also gives them a good experience of enjoying something. This can boost their self-esteem by helping them to see themselves more positively.
What this might look like in real life: If you have a younger child, have a games night at the weekend. Or if you have a teenager, sit down to watch a favourite film together on a weekend evening.
Talk about how great it is to give things a go and to enjoy the process of doing something, rather than focusing on success. Encourage them to pursue their interests without worrying about whether the outcome will be ‘good’. If they are struggling at the moment, you can start with something small like going for a walk somewhere new or cooking a new meal together.
Show them that you know they will be okay if something does not turn out the way they planned. Things not going perfectly is just part of life, and it’s never the end of the world. If they do something they find challenging, notice and celebrate them for it.
What this might look like in real life: ‘Oh! I don’t know if that turned out how you were expecting. Well done for giving it a go though, I’m so proud of you. It was really hard but you did it!’.
Being part of a group, or finding an interest they enjoy, can give them confidence and purpose, which can improve their self-esteem.
What this might look like in real life: If they’d like to do something alone, support them to try out an activity they’re interested in, and help them find the resources they need to get started.
Or if they’d like to, look for local groups or clubs where they can meet like-minded people. They might be interested in art, drama, writing, singing, music, chess, lego, video games or something else. They might also enjoy getting involved with a voluntary or community project that makes a difference in the world. This can help them to develop a more positive opinion of themselves.
If your child is feeling isolated around an aspect of their identity, they might benefit from meeting other young people, as well as older role models, who share this identity.
- Autistic children and young people might be able to join a local group through one of the National Autistic Society’s local branches, or by searching the NAS directory.
- There may be a local LGBTQIA+ group run by your child’s school or a local charity.
- You can search the Bayo website for local groups run for and by the Black community.
If something you’re going through feels like a huge mountain to climb or it feels overwhelming, try not to focus on the whole task or end result. Try instead to think about the best first step, and take it from there, one day at a time. Then ask yourself, has it helped? Has it helped your young person, or do you need to change direction and try something new?
Looking after yourself and modelling good self-esteem
Children and young people learn about how to be in the world from the people around them. So it’s really important that we model good self-esteem as parents and carers. For example, you can show your child that it’s okay to try new things by doing it yourself. Or, when things are hard, you can show them you have a kind, accepting attitude towards yourself.
This may feel difficult if things are tough or overwhelming at the moment. It's harder to do these things when our batteries are running low. Remember to keep finding ways to re-charge and take care of yourself, as well as your child. Make time, however small, for the things that work for you. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it and to share your worries with someone you trust.
If self-esteem is an issue you find particularly difficult, it might be helpful to reflect on your own experience. What messages have you been given by others, and how has this affected your attitude towards yourself?
Take care of yourself. Model good self-care and mind your own language. Avoid phrases like ‘I’ve been good so I can have this’ or ‘I’ve been bad so I can’t have that’. Just be and don’t base it on rewards and denying yourself. You can treat yourself for no reason at all. And so can your child. You are worthy.
Our children are picking up, absorbing and often copying our behaviours - even if subconsciously! So we have to be mindful about our modelling. Building our own self-esteem will ultimately help build our children’s.
Finding help and support for your child or young person
If your child or young person is struggling with their self-esteem, a good first step is speaking to their school. The school may be able to:
- Link them with a mentor or buddy, which can help them feel there is someone at school who really cares about them.
- Encourage and support them to join a club, or to take on a new responsibility such as library monitor or peer learning mentor.
- Link them with support groups, which lots of schools run around issues like making friends.
If they are feeling anxious about school at the moment, have a look at our guide to find information and advice about what to do next.
A counsellor or therapist can work with your child or young person to improve their self-esteem. They can explore where their feelings have come from, and gently challenge some of their beliefs about themselves. They can also support them to find ways of coping when things are tough.
Read our guide to find out how they can access counselling and therapy.
Sometimes, issues with self-esteem can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. They can also lead to a young person turning to coping mechanisms such as self-harm. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to speak to a GP about what support is available.
Read our guide to getting help from the GP for more information about this.
You are the expert in your child. You can work alongside doctors and other people supporting your young person, but ultimately you know your child best. Attending parenting classes, and getting support in a peer space where other parents and carers understand, can boost your confidence and self-esteem, which will ultimately help your child too.
Useful helplines and websites
While we take care to ensure that the organisations we signpost to provide high quality information and advice, we cannot take responsibility for any specific pieces of advice they may offer. We encourage parents and carers to always explore the website of a linked service or organisation to understand who they are and what support they offer before engaging with them.
YoungMinds Parents Helpline
We support parents and carers who are concerned about their child or young person's mental health. Our Parents Helpline provides detailed advice and information, emotional support and signposting.
You can contact us by phone, webchat or email.
You can speak to us over webchat between 9.30am and 4pm from Monday-Friday. When our webchat service is closed, you can email us using the form on our Parents Helpline page.
- Opening times:
- 9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday
Parenting Mental Health
Digital support community and charity offering information, peer support, facilitated listening circles, mentoring and courses for parents of children with mental health difficulties.
Founder Suzanne Alderson’s book Never Let Go - How to Parent Your Child Through Mental Illness (Penguin, 2020) outlines how she supported her daughter to recovery after she became depressed and suicidal.
Provides information about local counselling and advice services for young people aged 12-25.
Just put in your location and what you need help with into their 'Find help' search, and see what services are available in your area.
Black Minds Matter
Connects Black individuals and families with free professional mental health services across the UK.
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.
- Opening times:
National Autistic Society
Supports autistic people and their families. You can find lots of information and advice about autism on their website. They also have a network of local branches. These can provide things like parent courses and family support, social meet-ups and support groups for autistic young people.
They have an inpatient care support service, which provides advice to autistic people and the families of autistic people who are in a mental health hospital.
This page was reviewed in September 2023.
It was created with parents and carers with lived experience of supporting their child or young person with self-esteem.
We will next review the page in 2026.
YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.
Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.
Please be aware that this form isn’t a mental health support service. If your child is in crisis right now and you want to talk to someone urgently, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.