Self-esteem is the way people see themselves. Children develop self-esteem very early in life and are shaped by their own expectations as well as the expectations of significant people in their life, such as parents, caregivers or peers.

Self-esteem is an important factor in a child’s motivations and achievements and can have an effect on their performance in school, sports, social relationships and the ability to recover from disappointment. A child’s self-esteem can change from day to day, however, their overall self-esteem plays a major role in their emotional development. A child with low self-esteem will tend to settle for modest accomplishments and may feel shame or inadequacy and are more likely to conform to their peer group and adopt their behaviours and values. Children with low-self esteem are often not able to deal with stress and failures.

To determine if a child has low self-esteem, look for the following signals:

  • A child who avoids a task or challenge without even trying or quitting at the first sign of frustration
  • Cheating or lying when the child thinks they are going to lose
  • Drop in school grades
  • Social withdrawal or little contact with friends
  • Makes self-critical comments like “nobody likes me”
  • Overly sensitive about other people’s opinion of them

How can you help a child with low self-esteem? In order for a child to develop a healthier self-esteem, they will need the following:

  1. Sense of security: Children must feel secure about themselves and their future.
  2. Sense of belonging: Children need to feel accepted and loved by others. This begins in the family and extends to friends, schoolmates and other groups.
  3. Sense of purpose: Children should have goals that give them purpose and direction.
  4. Personal competence and pride: Children should feel confident in their ability to meet the challenges in their lives. This comes from having success in solving problems, being creative and seeing results from their efforts.
  5. Trust: Children need to feel like they are trusted by their parents, caregivers and other children. To help children feel trusted, you need to be sure to keep promises you make to them and give them chances to be trustworthy.
  6. Self-discipline and control: As children are gaining independence, they need to sense that they can make it on their own. Give them opportunities and guidelines for them to test themselves.
  7. Accepting mistakes and failure: Children need to know that when they make a mistake they are not defeated. When a child makes a mistakes or fails, explain that hurdles and setbacks are a normal part of life and the important thing is to always try their hardest and to ask for help when they need it. Support them with constructive criticism that is designed to help them improve, not to make them feel discouraged or humiliated.

Words by Marichen Klaver, a registered Counsellor / student Educational Psychologist at Sparrow Schools Educational Trust.

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