Self-esteem refers to someone’s level of confidence in his own worth or abilities. A person or child can have high, low, or a healthy self-esteem. Having either a high or low self-esteem is unhealthy, each presenting challenges of their own.

Low self-esteem in children can impact everything they do in their daily lives, at home and at school. Children with low self-esteem often view themselves as inadequate, unlovable, or incompetent. They will be less likely to stand up for themselves, and avoid asking for help since they feel that they don’t deserve it. As a result, they may feel unconfident and insecure about who they are. This makes it more difficult for them to face and manage their learning challenges.

If you think that you child may suffer from low self-esteem, you have reason to be concerned. Low self-esteem in children can be known to block progress, at school and in their future adult life.

Rina Ong-Liebnitz, Counsellor and Coach at Maitri Matters says, “When school is all about achievement and we lose sight of learning as an unending process, we run the risk of categorising children into ‘those who can achieve’ and ‘those who cannot’. If we question deeply enough, we realise that every child is learning all the time – they are achieving all the time. Children’s self-esteem is subtly built by our own framework of expectations and bit by bit through all our interactions with them. We have to stay alert and mindful to the messages we transmit.”

WHAT CAN PARENTS OR TEACHERS DO TO HELP? 

Firstly, and importantly - know that you can, in fact, help your child to develop a positive level of self-esteem. Formal programs are believed to be unnecessary to help children with self-esteem issues. Instead, a low self-esteem can be addressed in the course of everyday interactions filled with encouragement, support, appreciation, and expressions of your belief in your child’s abilities.

To help your child with self-esteem issues at school, a first step is to talk to your child’s teacher(s) and discuss a few possible strategies. You may be surprised to note that the teacher could have already detected that your child suffers from a low self-esteem.

Together with the school, here are some strategies that you and the teachers can put in place:

•  Express specific and genuine praise for positive steps - even the small ones. Remember that they need to be specific about what exactly was worth praising.

•  When your child does achieve progress in a particular area, show him or her tangible proof of it. For example, you could record the way your child makes a speech over time.

•  Be proud of your child’s accomplishments verbally, but also by putting them up on display. Frame up his or her best artwork and show it off proudly in the living room (or classroom). If he or she wrote a short story, read it out to the class or family.

•  Show your child that you have confidence in his or her abilities by assigning tasks to him or her. At home, this can be caring for the pet. At school, this may be the collection of homework or reading out the morning announcements.

•  Show genuine interest in your child’s hobbies but setting aside time to ask him or her questions about it. Show your child things related to this hobby, like a how-to book or an article.

•  Don’t be too quick to cheer him up when he fails at a test or any other challenge. First, acknowledge the feeling of failure. Then, assure him that failure is a normal part of life. Look up some famous people and share with your child how they have failed before. Steve Jobs failed many times before Apple became a huge success. Find similar examples to share with your child.

Keep working closely with the teacher and have her keep you updated about how your child progresses over time. Over time, practising these strategies will help your child grow to believe in his or her own value.