Building Self-Esteem in Children

Why Do Girls in Elementary School Have Low Self Esteem?

Appearance and Image

As puberty draws closer, exposure to the media and changes to your daughter's body can lead to low self-esteem and poor body image, according to the Center for Young Women's Health. Remind your daughter that people come in all shapes and sizes and talk to her about the skewed view the media presents. It is important to model a healthy attitude toward your own body, because your daughter will pick up on how you feel about your own features. It may also be encouraging to help her write a list of her five favorite personal physical features. Getting plenty of exercise, eating a nutritious and balanced diet and finding clothes that make her feel confident and comfortable can also boost her self-esteem.


Teachers, parents, coaches, religious figures, friends and acquaintances can play a role when a girl develops low self-esteem. Frequent criticism by parents, feeling left out by friends, receiving negative feedback from a teacher or upheavals in a family's life such as divorce or death can contribute to girls feeling bad about themselves, according to Learning to keep criticism constructive, and issuing praise to match, can help your daughter see both her strengths and weaknesses, as can showing love, caring and understanding.


Many people derive pleasure and self-esteem from their achievements, and children are no exception. A girl who is discouraged from tackling challenges, told that she cannot complete certain tasks or hindered from making progress in other ways may develop low self-esteem, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Parents should try to give positive feedback as their children try to complete obstacles. Failing at something can be a life lesson and should not be a reason to prevent children from trying something new. Instead, help your daughter see that failures can be beginnings rather than endings and help her remember her strengths and how she can use them.

Additional Information

Low self-esteem may be a combination of several factors, or you may not know what is causing the problem at all, according to KidsHealth. If you are concerned about the way your daughter views herself, talk to a pediatrician or counselor about what you can do to help. Girls may also adopt a negative self-view as a result of seeing their mothers do the same. Changing your attitude about yourself could help your daughter change her attitude about herself.

Does Low Self-Esteem in Teens Lead to Alcohol & Drug Abuse?


Teenagers who feel they have little value might view drugs and alcohol as magic potions that quiets their self-degrading thoughts and help them cope more positively with daily living. For example, high school girls with low self-confidence were twice as likely as girls with high self-esteem to drink alcohol or use drugs, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Teens who suffer from or who were victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse are at a higher risk of substance abuse during the teen years and as young adults.

Bully Victims

Persistent bullying by classmates and peers can cause a teen's self-esteem to take a nosedive. Teens who are physically attacked, teased or threatened in person or online are more likely to abuse substances than kids who aren't victimized by bullies. Teens who are harassed via email, social networking sites or other online forums are twice as likely as other adolescents to use a variety of substances, notes the NCASA.

Expert Insight

A study published in the November 2007 edition of the journal "Ethnicity and Health" set out to determine whether a new culturally tailored substance abuse treatment program on the rural island of Molokai in Hawaii was effective. Primary causes of substance abuse in the target group included low self- esteem, lack of self-identity, and deficient communication and conflict resolution skills. Participants took part in one-on-one counseling, group therapy and cultural activities. Researchers measured behavioral changes after the subjects completed participation in the multilevel evaluation plan. Although program data is still being compiled, study authors say they believe they've demonstrated a solid foundation for substance abuse program activities.

Boosting Your Teen's Self-Esteem

Encouraging your teen to feel good about her accomplishments, however small, can help improve her self-esteem. “We don’t tell our children often enough what they did right,” according to pediatrician Adele Hofmann, in a story at Complimenting your teen when she gets a good grade, completes her household chores or gets a new haircut can help lift her spirits. Talk to your health care provider if your teen's sense of self-worth persists or her drug or substance use escalates.

How to Develop Individuality in Kids

Create a low-stress environment to help your child feel confident in his individuality. Steve Baskins of the American Camp Association, writing for "Psychology Today" says you can do this by limiting planned activities and lessons and being open to what your child enjoys or wants to learn. He notes that while keeping to a schedule and being organized is important at times, it is also necessary to give your child room to discover his interests and talents.

Allow your child to express himself without limiting interests and activities by gender. Listen to your child's comments about gender-related activities without being critical or mocking him. For example if your son wants to learn how to cook or sew, encourage him to do so and point out men who are successful in these careers or hobbies.

Give your child positive living and historical role models in your family, community, country and culture, who have overcome restrictions due to gender, ethnicity religion and class. For example, teach your child about women who have succeeded as pilots, engineers or mathematicians.

Encourage your child to create his own play and let him daydream and think without filling up his time with toys, electronics and screens. Don't worry that your child will be bored if you don't give fill every moment with activities and toys. Instead of buying him a costume or props for a play, let him come up with ideas of his own to create them from things around the house.

Introduce your child to music, stories, clothing and foods from a wide range of cultures. Take him to culture and art shows to show him the diversity of people and places. Limit how much canned pop culture he gets from the TV and Internet.


Give your child more independence to help him develop and be confident in his individuality.


Some children may feel they need to conform and hide their individuality out of fear of being mocked or bullied by other children. If your child has low-self esteem or is being bullied, talk to him and try to get to the root of the problem. Talk to school officials about bullying, and seek professional help if necessary. Bullying can lead to depression.

How Does Positive Self-Esteem Affect Children as They Develop Through Their Teen Years?

Academic Success

Much of your teen's world revolves around school. Of course, for some teens, it's more about the social aspect, but self-esteem can actually affect your teen's academic performance as well. According to the book "Human Development: A Life-Span View: A Life-Span View," an adolescent with low self-esteem may perceive herself as unintelligent and therefore stop pushing to succeed academically. In contrast, a teen with high self-esteem sees the fruits of her labor and works to succeed because she believes that she can.

Risks and Experiences

JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., author of "Girls Will Be Girls," tells PBS Parents that self-esteem can be related to your teen's experiences and risks. She notes that teen girls who avoid risk have lower self-esteem than those who are willing to try something new. A teen that has positive self-esteem is unafraid to have new experiences, whether it's going on a date, joining a sports team, performing in front of others or traveling. Without those risks, a teen could miss out on character-shaping and confidence-boosting experiences that make a big impact.

Social Competency

A teen that has low self-esteem may have trouble making and keeping friends, due to the fact that she feels like she's not worthy, she feels uncomfortable talking with others or doesn't know how to relate to other teens. A teen with positive self-esteem is often the life of the party -- she knows that she has valuable traits that others will enjoy and can easily deal with social conflict and conversation. Those skills will serve her well as she goes through life.

Behavioral Choices

It's normal for teens to rebel and act out every once in a while, but there's a marked difference between the rebellion a low-confidence teen and that of a teen with positive self-esteem. A teen with confidence tries new things and tests her boundaries while still respecting others, notes therapist Carl Pickhardt in an article for Psychology Today. Teens with low self-esteem often take their negative feelings out on others, making them feel worse and creating a cycle of poor behavioral choices.

Poor Self Esteem & Reckless Behavior in Teens


According to an article by M. Brent Donnellan, et al. published in the Psychological Science journal in 2005, there is a strong link between low self-esteem and aggressive behavior as well as thoughts of aggression in teenagers. The authors argue that teenagers with low self-esteem may act aggressively to feel superior to others and boost feelings of worth. Teens with low self-esteem are at a higher risk of joining gangs and committing delinquent acts.

Substance Abuse

Teens with low self-esteem are more likely to drink, notes a study published in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence in 1997. Teenage boys in particular are more likely to abuse alcohol as a way of coping with low self-esteem. Teenagers who suffer from low self-esteem are also more likely to engage in reckless behavior such as taking drugs or having unprotected sex.

Eating Disorders

Teenagers with low self-esteem may have a distorted body image and try to control their weight with a reckless and unhealthy attitude to food, according to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Although it is more common for teenage girls, boys can also have problems with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Low self-esteem along with noticeable weight loss or weight gain can be signs of an emotional health problem.

School Problems

Low self-esteem in teenagers is closely linked to school absence, as teens with low self-esteem are more likely to skip classes or to join in with others who are also skipping school. Teenagers with low self-esteem are also more likely not to take school study seriously, have poorer grades and also might engage in more disruptive behavior at school than their peers with higher self-esteem, notes Laura Berk, author of "Child Development."

How to Build Your Teens' Confidence When They Are Being Made Fun of at School

Support and Empathy

Talk about the teasing and how this makes your teen feel. According to the U.S. Department of Education, parents should adopt an interested tone and communicate with kindness and affection. Talking about emotions can help you to respond to your teenager's lack of confidence. If, for example, she claims people make fun of her because she always gets the questions wrong during math class, you could encourage empathy by saying many people struggle with math, and then take time to help her with her math homework. You could also get a tutor or speak to her class teacher for extra support.

Encourage your teen in her hobbies. The American Academy of Pediatrics' says that when parents support their teen's interests they will boost self confidence and help teens develop their identity. Sports or music is a popular choice for many teens, and even if you don't like the heavy metal band your teenager has formed, showing you support him and encouraging him to practice will help with his general confidence. If your teen has any success in his hobby, such as winning at a local skateboarding competition, you can let the school administration, who may want to celebrate it, know, which could make his school colleagues feel proud of him and reduce their teasing.

Volunteer with your teen in your local community. There are usually many opportunities in which to get involved, such as serving together at a soup kitchen. The child development experts at the Kids Health website say that volunteering is an effective way to increase your teen's self-esteem and make her feel good about herself as she is helping others who are less fortunate. As she will come into contact and work alongside people of different backgrounds, volunteering will help her learn tolerance toward others, such as those making fun of her at school.


If you are concerned your teenager is being bullied, or if your teen is continually made fun of, make an appointment to see the school principal to discuss what action will be taken. If your teenager doesn't have many friends at school, try to encourage her to join clubs, such as a church youth group, where she can meet new people and make friends outside school.


Low self-confidence can lead to destructive behavior, such as drug taking and alcohol abuse. If you are concerned or you feel your teenager is suffering from depression, see his doctor for further advice.

How to Build Values & Self Esteem in Teens


Encourage your youngster to focus on her strengths instead of dwelling on weaknesses. By celebrating successes, your teen can stay motivated to continue learning and growing. Tell your child, “Everyone has weak areas, but concentrating on your strengths will make you stronger overall.”

Talk about the importance of a positive attitude to help your youngster ride out the challenges of life, suggests KidsHealth. By approaching situations positively, with a “can-do” attitude, your teen is more likely to succeed. Encourage your youngster to keep self-talk positive, repeating mantras such as “I got this” or “I can do this.” Even if setbacks happen, a positive attitude will help your child pick up the pieces and keep trying.

Teach your teen how to avoid harsh self-criticism after mistakes. A common reaction of kids suffering low self-esteem involves self-talk such as “I will never get this right!” or “I am so dumb!” Instead of this reaction, encourage a gentler approach that doesn’t add more hurt to the situation, advises psychologist Carl Pickhardt, writing in "Psychology Today."


Talk about your personal values often with your youngster to explain these principles. Everyday life should bring about situations that enable you to discuss honesty, hard work and concern for others. By applying values to various situations, you show your child the practical application of the values.

Demonstrate your values to your teenager in everyday life. Let your adolescent witness you conducting yourself honestly and with integrity. Treat others with respect and concern. Speak kindly and help others whenever you can. Kids usually catch on to the values you model.

Listen when your teen brings up issues or problems. Without criticizing or judging, get the details and then help your adolescent learn how to apply values to the choices she makes, advises the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. For example, an issue involving peer pressure might challenge your child. When she comes to you to discuss it, listen and then gently guide her to realize that her values enable her to figure out what she needs to do. Help her also realize that she has the self-confidence to remain true to her values.

Assign household responsibilities to your child, advises the Ask Dr. Sears website. When kids pitch in and help the family, they learn values such as diligence and accountability. Household chores also help increase a child’s self-confidence as he realizes that he can make a difference in how the family functions.

How to Teach Children They Are Worthy

Model confidence and healthy self-esteem for your child, advises the Ask Dr. Sears website. Children learn by example, and if your child sees you talking down to yourself, apologizing for things that are not your fault or treating yourself as if you aren’t good enough, he is more likely to do the same. If you are unhappy because of something not related to your child, he is still likely to view himself as the cause of your unhappiness, which is detrimental to his self-esteem.

Use positive reinforcement with your child and make sure that you always reward his effort in any situation rather than the outcome of said situation, advise Kids Health professionals. For example, if he works really hard on a science project and doesn’t get the grade he hoped for, don’t tell him that he can do better by working harder next time. Tell him that he may not have gotten an A but that you are really proud of him for how hard he worked on that project. This helps to build his self-esteem.

Redirect his negative opinions of his worthiness, advises the Kids Health site. For example, say he doesn’t make the soccer team and says something like, “I’m just not good enough to play soccer.” Tell him that he is a good athlete and that soccer just happens to be the sport he needs to focus on a little more. Generalizing his behavior can make him feel that he is unworthy by setting him up to believe his less-than-confident thoughts.

Encourage him to succeed, advises the Dr. Sears website. For example, if you notice that he seems to have an innate rhythm and ability to dance, encourage him to sign up for dance lessons. When you recognize his strengths and encourage him to work on those, it helps him to focus on something he’s already good at and build his self-esteem.

Provide your child with household responsibility, advises the Dr. Sears site. When you give your child the responsibility of keeping his room clean or taking out the trash, you are providing him with the feeling that you consider him worthy of being responsible.