How to Prevent Insecurity in Children

By Erica Loop
A happy girl on the sofa with her mother.

Insecurity doesn’t always wait until the teen years to take over your child’s life. When your child begins to doubt herself, feels like she’s always at fault or talks negatively about who she is and what she looks like, her self-esteem is suffering. Instead of waiting until it gets serious, step in and prevent insecurity with strategies that boost self-esteem.

Common Signs

While it’s not always easy to notice if and when insecurity strikes, looking for first signs may help you to prevent any further damage to your child’s self-esteem. In childhood, signs of insecurity often include avoiding challenging activities, cheating instead of losing a game, a new onset of baby-like behaviors or making excuses for failures, according to the American Academy Pediatrics’ HealtyChildren.org website.

Your child may also make overly critical statements about himself, his appearance or his abilities. You may notice that he’s using sweeping generalizations that aren’t based on fact, such as, “I’m always wrong.” Some children become overly-concerned with other people’s opinions or adopt negative behaviors to fit in with peers. For example, if your child feels like he can’t keep up in school or that he’s disappointing his teacher, he may start cutting classes with a schoolmate.

Results of Insecurity

When insecurity takes hold, it puts your child at risk. Low self-esteem that comes from measuring himself against his peers or from insults and put-downs his classmates may result in new negative behaviors. Your child’s insecurity may cause him to abandon what he knows is right in favor of what the other kids are doing. This may lead to going along with what the popular kids say or do, and could include cutting class, shoplifting or trying illegal substances at an early age.

Your child may also give up on activities that he used to find enjoyable, try to take the easy way out when it comes to school or avoid anything that challenges him. For example, he may say that he wants to quit playing baseball after struggling to not strike out.

Your Words and Praise

There isn’t one way to prevent insecurity. Boosting your child’s self-esteem takes a blend of techniques, thoughtfulness and caring. Keep in mind that your child isn’t just sensitive to what her friends say. She also worries about how you view her. While you shouldn’t lie or sugar-coat the truth, pick your words wisely when she fails or has set-backs. For example, if she does poorly on a math test, try something like, “I know that you didn’t do well this time, but you can spend some more time studying for the next time and do better.” Follow this up with an offer to help.

Praise your child’s successes. Point out the times when she does well, and tell her that you’re proud. That said, don’t dole out the praise constantly or for no real reason. Reserve praise for times when your child actually deserves it.

Building Pride from Within

Self-concept is something that comes from within. While your praises make him feel loved, you also need to boost this approach by helping him to praise himself. If he’s talking negatively about himself, have a discussion about why. For example, if he says, “I always do badly at math.” ask him why he feels this way. Get him to see a realistic picture of the situation. Follow his statement with, “Can you tell me one time when you got a good grade or got an answer right in math?” When he gives you an example, remind him that he needs to think about his successes as well as his failures.

Role Model

Your child is watching you and what you do. If you’re putting yourself down or hold yourself up to unrealistic expectations, she may think that insecurity is acceptable. Acknowledge your limitations, but in a fair and honest way. Instead of ranting and raving that you’ll never fit into your skinny jeans, act as a role model and keep the negativity out of the picture. Remind yourself, and your child, about all of the things that make both of you special.

Get Professional Help

If your child’s insecurity doesn’t respond to your best efforts or he’s engaging in worrisome behavior, seek professional help. For example, if he refuses to eat because he thinks he’s overweight or doesn’t want to go to school anymore because he believes he’s not smart, talk to a pediatric mental health professional.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.