Helping Children With Low Self Esteem
From simply being grouchy and unmotivated to becoming depressed and acting out behaviors, a child who has a low self esteem is in need of our help.
Many children who come into mental health care come from families with a multitude of difficulties. These children may have not had the kind of emotional support that they needed in their early years in order to develop healthy self esteem. In addition, the onset of adolescence for children can be a difficult time in their developing self image.
Children with disabilities often become disheartened and tired of working hard. They may compare themselves to other children around them, and see themselves lagging behind in numbers of friends, activities, and talents. Children with self esteem issues may not see themselves as getting enough positive return on the effort that they are putting out. They may become depressed, lethargic, and socially paralyzed. Often, it is difficult for the child to “pull themselves up” out of this kind of self esteem problem.
There are several strategies that care givers can use to help a child with low self esteem. First, be sure that all self esteem is genuinely earned. This means that we should avoid “reaching” for compliments. Unless the child clearly has made an effort at working on a goal, don’t make a shallow compliment (“Nice breathing, Johnny!”). Unless the child has really earned a reward, don’t give them one just to (falsely) boost their self esteem. (“Trophies for everyone, including the losers!”) Sooner or later, the unearned self esteem house of cards will come tumbling down. Either the child will begin to see through the over exaggerated compliments, or they will become dependent upon them (and stop making meaningful self esteem gains).
A second strategy is the “activity cure”. Keeping a child challenged and active at their level of ability boosts healthy self esteem. Children may need help in exploring and discovering their talents and activity preferences. Watch closely to see what the child enjoys doing. Seek out and plan opportunities for the child to enjoy favorite activities and to try new activities. Be sure the activities are within the child’s ability, but push the envelope of their skill level. It is helpful to make a list of interesting activities to try with children. If you don’t knowledge of how to do the activity, the internet can be of great help. You can also refer to the Quick Teach page on “Try These Activities”.
In most cases, you will have to “walk with” the child who has low self esteem. Telling them to “go outside and play” will not likely get much of a result. You have to go outside and play with them.
Telling them to “find something to do” will not likely work either. You have to be prepared with a specific idea and materials ,and work with them. During the play or new activity, remind the child that no one is good at everything, and the point is to have fun learning and trying.
Finally, a good strategy with low self esteem children is to keep them talking about how they are thinking about themselves. By helping children realistically process their self concept, we are working on creating a balanced child. Children need to become (gently) aware of their weaknesses as well as their talents and uniqueness. They need to hear that they are valuable to us, not just for their talents, strengths, skills, or completed chores. It is entirely appropriate to share (some of) our own insecurities and self esteem issues with the child. They need to know that the feelings that they have about themselves are not uncommon, and they are not alone in having them.