The Montfort Group

Nurturing your teen’s self-esteem

Some kids seem to have an abundance of confidence and appear to sail through life, taking on any new challenge that comes their way. But if a child is insecure, tends to become anxious, and is scared of the world, one of the issues may be low self-esteem.

It’s a phrase we hear often, but what exactly is self-esteem? Well, it’s about how much a person values, appreciates, and likes themselves. Simply put, it refers to how happy we are ourselves.

We know self-esteem is vital in almost every aspect of a teen’s life and that a healthy level makes it more likely they will be motivated to do their best and try new things. It can also help them cope with ‘mistakes.’ But perhaps most crucially, a generous amount of self-esteem can impact a child’s ability to form and develop strong relationships.

But how, as parents, can we identify low self-esteem in our teen?

Key indicators may include:

  • Negatively talking about themselves: “Of course, I failed the math test! I’m just dumb” or “No wonder he’s dating someone else. I’m ugly.”
  • They are constantly comparing themselves unfavorably to their peers.
  • Finding it difficult to accept praise or deal with criticism
  • Downplaying the importance of events in which they don’t participate: “I didn’t want to make the team anyway!”
  • Attempting to control and manipulate others in a bid to dominate
  • Avoiding trying new things for fear of failing or not being good enough
  • Giving up easily and admitting defeat at the first hurdle
  • Being quick to anger, tending to be highly emotional, and displaying aggression
  • Skipping school, abusing substances and self-harming

Just reading this list of tell-tale signs is enough to give any parent sleepless nights! If your child is suffering, what can you do to help them? Well, the good news is that self-esteem is not fixed, and it is possible to increase it to a healthier level.

As well as consistently demonstrating unconditional love for your child, here are some things to consider:

Avoid Being a Critic

This doesn’t mean always having to say what our children want to hear or never correcting them, but being consistently intentional about how we speak to them. When we become frustrated and yell things like, “You just don’t work hard enough in school. You are so lazy!” the damaging effect can often be lifelong. Our critical words may become the internal voice of their harsh inner critic. Instead, we can try focusing on behaviors and setting goals, which de-personalizes the issue. For example, suppose you’re concerned about your child’s grades. In that case, you could discuss the idea of devoting a window of time each day to studying.


Acknowledge their Efforts

It’s critical to notice and emphasize the effort our children give to something, regardless of the outcome. Focusing only on achievements can signal that they are only valuable and worthy when they make an A or win the game. This can set a child up for a lifetime of trying to win the approval of others rather than sitting comfortably in the knowledge of their intrinsic worth.

Equally, we would be wise to avoid over-praising. Yes, it’s important to celebrate victories and accomplishments, but we must keep praise sincere. Children (just like adults) know immediately if we’re unduly doling out praise when it’s not warranted. Sometimes we forget that showering a child with compliments is often counterproductive to building self-esteem.


Normalize Talking about Feelings

When children suffer from low self-esteem, they can internalize their feelings and find it difficult to express them. But they must learn to talk about their emotions and for us to encourage them to speak up if they feel disappointed, angry, afraid, and so on. As parents, we must take the time to acknowledge and validate our children’s feelings. In addition, we are teaching them that their feelings are just as important as everyone else’s is crucial.

Deal with Disappointments Constructively

Perfectionist tendencies are common in children with low self-esteem, so we must reassure them that getting things wrong from time to time is part of life. We can challenge the harsh judgments they make of themselves by asking if they would say the same of a friend. Would they call a friend stupid or a loser? Of course not! They would probably support someone else who had experienced the same difficulties. They need to know that it’s good to treat themselves with the same compassion and understanding they would like from other people.

As parents, it’s painful and upsetting to watch a teen struggle with self-esteem issues. However, with love, care, and intentionality, we can help turn things around.

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