What is self-esteem? 

Self-esteem means feeling good about yourself. Children generally have a healthy self-image in their early years and a positive attitude towards new experiences, but as they reach adolescence they may show signs of low self-esteem by responding to new opportunities with, “I can’t do that” or “I will never fit in.” This can affect how they feel about their schooling, friendships, and families in various ways.

Self-esteem resources

People with self-esteem:

Believe in themselves

Attempt challenges

Act independently

Feel accepted for who they are

Are proud of their accomplishments

Happy to help others

People with low self-esteem:

Don’t like who they are

Feel unloved

Pretend not to care

Avoid new things

Think negatively about themselves

Believe they are not worthy

Can be easily influenced

Self-esteem resources

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Reasons for low self-esteem in tweens:

Between 6 and 11 children become more aware of their differences. This can result in comparisons with their peers of who is sportier, smarter, prettier or popular. This is part of growing up, however, if the comparisons prevent children from seeing their own self-worth it can become an issue.

The people in a child’s life also have an impact on their self-esteem. Parents, teachers, and peers influence how children feel about ourselves. When people focus on their positive behaviours children feel good. Being patient when children make mistakes, helps them learn self-acceptance.

On the other hand, if others focus more on criticising children it becomes difficult for them to maintain a healthy self-esteem. This includes ridicule, bullying and teasing by adults, siblings or peers. Cruel words can become part of how children think about themselves. If a child feels disapproval or shame often enough it can influence their self-image into feeling not good enough.

When children are in their tweens changes also happen to their body and that might cause insecure thoughts about themselves. This can lead to low self-esteem and having negative thoughts.

A child’s internal dialogue plays a large part in their self-esteem and how they feel about who they are. If they think, “I’m a loser” or “I’ll never make friends,” the self-image they are creating is a negative one. Sometimes the internal dialogue is the child being hard on themselves or it could be what others have said to them.

Tips to improve tween self-esteem:

Positive self-talk – rephrase their negative comments, e.g., From, “I’m a loser” to “Even though you didn’t win you tried your best.”

Master a skill – find an interest they don’t know a lot about and then help them to learn all about it.

Self-improvement – identify a challenge in a positive way and set a realistic goal to improve it. E.g. learning to play a sport, art skills or dance step.

Encourage and praise effort not outcomes – The energy put into trying is within your child’s control however the outcomes may not be.

Assertiveness skills – practice being assertive without being aggressive. Turn their demands into preferences and help them understand they may not get what they want. Offer choices and opportunities for your child to express their thoughts and for them to also have the freedom to say no.

Model self-esteem – show your child how you talk kindly to yourself and value your self-worth.

Teach self-worth – encourage the importance of respect, boundaries, consideration and empathy and discus how appearance and the media need not control their sense of worth.

Space for choice – provide enough space for your child to practice healthy decision making even if they make a mistake. Experiencing consequences can help develop confidence and better problem solving skills.

Accept their best – it’s okay not to be perfect or number one. When they have done their best reward them for that.

Choose positive friends – teach your child to nurture healthy friendships with people who lift them up and who they can be themselves with, without judgement, and for them to be that type of friend as well.

Help others – giving back and helping someone at home, school or in the community increases self-esteem. It will make your child proud of who they are and even the smallest acts of kindness can make their self-esteem grow.

Self-esteem resources

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