Everyone has times where they feel good about themselves, and times when they feel less good. If your child’s self-esteem is high, they’re more likely to see themselves in a positive light most of the time. If it’s low, they view themselves more negatively.

But everyone is different - so even if your child seems to feel less good about themselves, this doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong as a parent. The most important thing to know is that you can help them feel more positive.

What causes low self-esteem? 

If a young person’s self-esteem is low, they think negatively about their own abilities and worth. The more often they have these thoughts, the lower their self-esteem is likely to be. 

Some common causes of low self-esteem in young people include: 

  • Negative friends or peers

  • Unrealistic goals

  • Being bullied

  • Feelings of loneliness

  • A lot of criticism or neglect from adults in their lives

How do I know if my child has low self-esteem? 

Self-esteem isn’t fixed, and everyone will have different levels of confidence. If your child has lower self-esteem, signs might include:

  • Comparing themselves to other people

  • Negative self-talk

  • Blaming themselves for things

  • Persistent fear of failure 

  • Trying to please others

  • Getting defensive when they think they’re being criticised

  • Avoiding certain situations 

  • Lack of motivation

  • Neglecting or even abusing themselves (in more severe cases)

Spotting one of these signs in your child doesn’t immediately mean you need to worry. But try to take notice more often of how your child feels about themselves. This will help you see how you might best support them. 

How can I help build positive self-esteem? 

Helping your child build positive self-esteem may take a little time, but as a parent you can give them a lot of the support they need. Approach the situation gently.

Begin by looking for chances to spend more time together. This could be playing games or watching TV together - this is up to you and your child. Having fun together and making sure they feel loved is a great start. From here, you can judge a good time to explore ideas of self-esteem.

Get them to try spotting their negative thoughts 

See if they’re happy to tell you how things are going in their lives. You may have noticed them saying negative things about themselves. Ask why they feel that way. 

Do they seem OK talking about this? Explain that thoughts may not always affect reality, but can affect our behaviour. Encourage them to start noticing negative thinking patterns and question them. Some of the activities below will help your child to start reflecting on this.

Activity: the thoughts diary 

>> Useful to help your child identify positive things about themselves. Works well with any age.

Keeping a diary with your child can help both of you to identify daily successes and things that have gone well. When we’re feeling bad about ourselves, we often forget to notice these things. Ask your child to answer some of the questions below:

  • Today I had fun when…

  • I helped someone to…

  • Something I did well today was…

  • A nice thing someone did for me today was..

  • Today was interesting because…

  • I felt good about myself today when…

  • I felt proud today when…

Activity: social media  

>> Useful for looking at using social media in a healthy way. Works well with teenagers.

Have a chat with your child about whether social media has ever made them feel less confident. It might be useful to: 

  • Ask why they enjoy social media

  • Find out what aspects of media appeals to them - this can help gauge why they follow certain people and post certain things 

  • Get your child to think about whether or not ‘likes’ on a photo or post is valuable feedback.

  • Talk to them about the differences between admiration and jealousy. This can help them see the people they follow as role models rather than someone to compare themselves to. 

  • Discuss how what they see online doesn’t always reflect real life. You could use the example of the company in Moscow that rents out a grounded private jet as a photography studio for aspiring travel ‘influencers’ to pretend they have a luxury lifestyle. 

  • Play a game where you guess if photos on social media have a filter or not. How easy is it to tell? Why might someone use a filter?  


Get further support

If you’re worried about your child and not sure you can help them, seek professional help. See our list of where to get more support


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