Self-esteem can be simply put as "how you feel about yourself - how you feel about who you are, the way you act, and how you look." When a person does not think too highly of himself, that person is said to have low self-esteem. Self-esteem makes a person what he is. It is in most cases the outline of a person's personality and it is directly related to the confidence the person carries within. So, very obviously, a lower self-esteem leads to a lower level of self-confidence.
It is often observed that children and young people who are exceptionally loud, bold and rebellious, suffer from a low self-esteem. Same is true the other way round also. These people with their behavior try to hide what they actually are and end up spending most of their life pretending to be someone else. Having a sense of self-worth is as important as being educated.
A child suffering with low esteem often isolates himself/herself from the world, giving out a signal of being shy. At least most parents dismiss it as shyness. Low self-esteem causes developmental delays in many cases because children are scared to interact, ask questions, and they will avoid being a part of anything that needs interacting with the human race. Jokes apart, the shyness of a child is crippling and often comes in the way of the child's growth. Imagine what happens when a child doesn't ask questions to clear up his/her doubts, and lives with all the wrong information. So, in short, if your child is not a happy-go-lucky sweetheart, you should really check out for some problems. It is okay to be shy, but there are types of this attribute that need to be taken care of, because consequences of low self-esteem are always disastrous.
There are many problems that come in when a child suffers from low self-esteem, and it is only the parents and the other caretakers who can help. And to help, the parents have to notice the signs of low self-esteem in their children.
Symptoms of Low Self-esteem in Kids
- Shyness: A child suffering from low self-esteem is overly shy and will avoid meeting new people or facing new situations, till death. What parents have to understand is, that this extreme shyness is not normal. Shyness to some extent is acceptable, but if the child refuses to warm up at all, it should be considered a warning sign.
- Insecurity: Low self-esteem often gives rise to insecurities. An overly clingy child is often a sign of low self-esteem. By being clingy, a child ensures that a particular parent or a caretaker is always around. That way the child feels protected, and this also ensures that he/she doesn't have to talk to someone else.
- Fear: Unnecessary fears often erupt from low self-esteem. These children are afraid of trying new things, because they have already assumed that they will fail, and in most cases, they pity themselves. Normally, children are carefree and never think twice before jumping from a wall, but a child with low self-esteem may be too careful and not at all adventurous in the backyard.
- Procrastination: This is one major attribute that parents can easily observe. Children are known to be very curious when it comes to trying new things and experimenting, but a child with low self-esteem will be often seen putting off things for later. They do this because they are scared of failing. They just can't take failure positively and don't prefer to try.
- Pessimism: As already mentioned, these children pity themselves and are pessimists at heart. Even before trying something, they know they won't be able to do it. Parents may often hear statements like "I am such a loser" or "I always knew I can't do this", from a child suffering from low self-esteem.
- Perfection: Children with low self-esteem are mostly perfectionists. Because of their fear of failure, they tend to do things to the extent of perfection.
- Overdoing: Perfectionists always overdo things. A low self-esteem pushes the child to make sure that whatever he/she does, can't be criticized at all.
- Dependence: Children with low esteem will be sometimes highly dependent on their parents. They don't prefer making friends and practically don't have any, and hence, end up staying at home. These children mostly lack the ability to take a decision and need a parent around, constantly.
- Dumbly Bold: Sometimes, children suffering from low self-esteem become extremely and dumbly bold. This happens because of their inner urge of proving otherwise. Just to prove that they are not useless, they will take up something that normal children won't try, like something dangerous or embarrassing. In some cases, children with low self-esteem was very loud and bold, and they were mistaken to be actually very confident, which is not the case.
Causes of Low Self-esteem in Kids
Social Causes: There are many social causes that lead to low self-esteem in little children. Racial abuse tops the chart of reasons. Bullying by other children is also one of the major reasons. Many children are teased for their looks, their performance in the class, and even for their inability to do something. This constant bullying by their peers, many a time, leads the child towards depression and low self-esteem. Sometimes, teachers also play a leading role in the bullying act. A non-appreciative teacher may very easily push a child towards low self-esteem, because for children, a teacher's words are the final words. A teacher is very much capable of ruining a child's life.
Conditions at Home: Low self-esteem is often because of disharmony and child abuse at home. Constant fights between parents, an ill-tempered and abusive parent, and also a non-understanding and constantly nagging parent adds to the misery of children. Generally, the demands and expectations of parents are more than what the child is capable of, and when the child fails to achieve what his parents want, he considers himself a failure and starts a journey filled with low self-esteem. Siblings can also be a problem sometimes. Not actually siblings, here also the problem are the parents. No two kids are same and comparing them is a crime. Parents forget that every child is unique and can't be forced to be someone else. The comparison between siblings kills the morale of a child, pushing him towards the feelings of being unwanted and unloved. Siblings can be a problem by being dominating, nagging a lot and bullying the younger ones.
Learning Disabilities: Learning disabilities are something that don't show up early and create a huge problem for the child. Imagine a child with dyslexia, he will definitely lag behind when it comes to age-related learning targets. And now imagine a parent who is creating havoc in the child's life, not knowing that he is actually suffering from a disability and cannot actually learn what he is supposed to. A solution to avoid this scenario is reading all the parenting books even before your baby is born. The point is that the parents should be aware of the problems and disabilities that a child may suffer from. Ignorance and assuming that this can't happen to my child, will take you nowhere and will even ruin the life of your kid.
How Can You as a Parent Help
Parents are often clueless when it comes to helping their child out of a low self-esteem. All they need to do is, be there. A child always needs a support system, a person who says 'I am here for you, go ahead face the world and come back even if you have made a mistake, I will face the consequences with you'. A strong support back home gives the child a sense of confidence which goes a long way in defining his/her personality. So, I can safely say that the dos and don'ts of low self-esteem start at home.
- The first and foremost thing to do is appreciate the gift, that your child is.
- Be a good role model. By being positive and happy, you can guide your child towards a fulfilling life.
- Don't compare your one kid with the other, or your kid with some top performer of your locality.
- Be appreciative of whatever small thing that your child has achieved. A pat on the shoulder does wonders that even words cannot achieve.
- Try to convert your child's weakness into some advantage of his/her, rather than criticizing always. It is totally fine to be a critic in your child's life, but there are better ways of doing so.
- Identify with your child's fears. The kiddish fears may be small to you, but they are huge for him and it may be coming in the way of his growth.
- Motivate your child. Not everyone is a born genius, but a little motivation may work wonders.
- When you listen to your kid commenting negatively about himself/herself, immediately go up to your kid and tell him/her that no one is perfect and there are surely many things he/she is good at, like having a close circle of friends, good grades in school or being good at sports, etc.
- Independence is one totally misunderstood virtue. Parents often claim that they have given their children all the space they need, but sometimes they forget to let them 'be themselves'. The freedom of being yourself is like the freedom to breathe. It is totally understandable to teach your kids your principles, but it is equally important to let them have their own set of principles also. Let the child learn from mistakes, when it is not possible to teach him with yours.
- Be a friend to your child, learn what he/she is good at, what he/she does not like, what is bothering him/her, and then guide your kid towards his/her strengths. Make your kid aware of the weaknesses but along with the solutions, about how you can together work them out.
- Trust your child, that way he/she will gain some confidence. Moreover, kids are not always wrong, even if they are, they will learn from the mistakes, and of course for the consequences you are there.
- Let them take part in the important decisions and discussions around the house. Involve them in activities that boost their esteem; like while buying a new TV, you can always include the kid in the conversation and ask what he/she thinks about some particular model, or which one would he/she like and why.
- Kids with self-esteem issues have difficult feelings (so do others, at times) and to solve some problem, they throw a fit, vent their anger on their younger siblings and this demeanor becomes a routine. Don't encourage or pity the child. At times, as a parent, you have to be firm. You have to teach them to deal with their emotions before such incidences keep increasing, or else kids will continue this "acting out" conduct in their life for every little thing that annoys them. There may be instances where your child has to finish tough school assignments, or he/she may perform poorly in a test. You have to teach your child to cope with such events, manage his/her emotions, pick himself/herself up and make a wholehearted attempt again.
- Teach the child the importance and meaning of failure. Explain what it means to fail, and how he/she has to get back to the task and try it again. Give examples of your life, your failures, and teach your child to accept failure with a smile.
- Don't write off your baby as good-for-nothing. Never ever do that. Even if you don't say that, children tend to notice what you feel.
- Avoid being negative when the child is around. Talking negative about him, about yourself, about anything, should be avoided. Imbibe positive thinking in your as well as your child's life.
- Don't criticize, discuss the problems and come up with solutions and not nagging and scolding.
- Don't punish offensively. Punishments are required sometimes to convey the rules to kids, but they should be such that they don't hurt their pride.
- Don't be over protective. Let the child make his/her own decisions. Discuss the pros and cons rather than implicating your decisions on the child.
- Don't praise the child in excess for his/her achievements. Be normal with the appreciation, because children tend to notice the excessive praise, and even if they don't, they will go on the wrong side of confidence.
Being there for your children is one of the basic responsibilities of parents. Don't forget that providing for them is something that everybody does, but standing behind them and going that one extra mile is what you can do for them, as a token of your love. Low self-esteem can be cured with just one look; the look that you give when your child looks over his/her shoulder and finds you standing there, all smiles, and faith in him/her. Because as Frederick Douglas said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."