Causes of Low Self-Esteem in Kids
(The Freeman) - July 22, 2018 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  Young children tend to have relatively high measures of self-esteem, but with the onset of the tween years, low self-esteem may become more of an issue. There are a number of interrelated reasons why low self-esteem begins to appear during pre-adolescence.


• Low Self-Esteem from Comparisons with Others

Somewhere between six and 11 years of age, children begin to actively compare themselves to their peers. This newfound social comparison occurs for both cognitive and social reasons. Psychologist Erik Erikson believed that self-comparison sets the stage for the greatest struggle faced by kids this age. Their major conflict, he believed, centers on developing a sense of industry, or a feeling of competence, while avoiding a sense of inferiority.

• Low Self-Esteem Due to Feeling Incompetent

As Erikson noted that some children come to think that their efforts are not as good as those of their peers and begin to feel inferior. Notably, though, feeling incompetent does not universally lead to low self-esteem. If a child’s poor performance occurs in a domain he doesn’t value, such as athletics, his self-esteem is unlikely to be affected. If, however, he’s incompetent in an area he finds important, such as academics, he is at risk of developing low self-esteem.

• Increasing Performance Pressure Can Trigger Low Self-Esteem

Performance pressure also increases during the tween years. During early and middle childhood, parents and teachers tend to commend any effort, large or small, poor or excellent. As adolescence approaches, however, adults come to expect more from kids; effort still matters, but performance starts to matter even more. As a result, tweens not only make their own comparisons between themselves and their peers, but they also witness adults making these same comparisons.

• Low Self Esteem from Perceived Disapproval by Others

As parents’ and teachers’ performance expectations increase, tweens begin to perceive disappointment from these adults. Whether the child’s self-esteem is affected depends on which adult(s) are disapproving of their efforts. If the disapproval comes from someone the child does not like – say a teacher that he or she does not look up to – the child is unlikely to take the judgment to heart and self-esteem will remain high. If, however, children believe that a beloved parent or trusted coach is disappointed in them, low self-esteem may result. It’s clear, then, that parents can play a key role in helping kids maintain healthy self-esteem.  Rebecca Fraser-Thill

Reviewed by Steven Gans, MD

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