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Life Coach: Symptoms of low self-esteem in children

By James Gitau | June 23rd 2013

By James Gitau

As I promised in my previous article, this week I share some insights on how you can detect low self-esteem in your child. Low self-esteem can be disastrous, hindering many children from experiencing life to the fullest.

How do you know if your child is suffering from low self-esteem? Sometimes the signs are very direct, while at other times, the signs must be inferred from the behaviour of the child and the ways in which he or she copes with issues.


The danger of misdiagnosis of low self-esteem is real, for various reasons, the main one being ignorance.

Most parents and caregivers have no clue what self-esteem is and even those who do have limited awareness on how it manifests itself. At times, the behaviour of a child can be thought to be a character trait: “That’s the way he is.”

In many instances, professional help is not sought even when the parents and other caregivers, like teachers, are aware that a child suffers low self-esteem. The tendency is to assume that the child will outgrow those symptoms or behaviour associated with low self-esteem.

However, over time, a child may engage in self-sabotage or self-destructive behaviour, which can become very hard to rectify at a later stage.

It is important to be aware that one’s character and behaviour is greatly shaped by his or her experiences. My mother labelled my anger a gene inherited from my paternal side. For more than 40 years, I suffered low self-esteem and engaged in behaviour that sabotaged my success.

Symptoms of low self-esteem

There are many signs of low self-esteem in children. We will focus on a few main ones.

If you find this topic of interest, I encourage you to research on it so that you can increase your awareness on this much talked about but little understood subject. This way, you may be able to help a child overcome low self-esteem.

1.  Overly shy

The child appears extremely shy and avoids meeting new people or facing new situations. There is a tendency to avoid eye contact with unfamiliar people. Such a child prefers to remain in a comfort zone with people or situation he or she is familiar with. This may be an indication of serious self-doubt and/or insecurity.

2.  Extreme anger, aggression, depression or long periods of moodiness

The child may be dealing with unresolved emotional challenges, which could lead to isolation and further problems. Unfortunately, most parents and caregivers do not know how to help their children deal with past emotional issues. They will tell the child not to get angry or even threaten the child if he or she continues displaying negative emotions.

3. Acts like a baby or even silly

This behaviour may invite teasing and name-calling from other children, thus making it worse for your child’s self-esteem.

4. Easily gives up and shows inability to cope with failure

Displaying low staying power on most assignments, especially when facing a challenge or difficult patch, is another warning sign. The child will often cite lack of interest, or find something or someone to blame for failure

5. Lacks enthusiasm and motivation

The child is not interested in things that would normally excite a child of that age.

6. Poor grades in school

Low self-esteem could lead to a decline of grades and disinterest in school or schoolwork. In some cases, the child starts talking negatively about the teacher, school or fellow students.

7. Self-criticism

Finding fault too often and judging oneself too harshly is another symptom of low self-esteem. “I’m always getting it wrong,” the child will say. “What’s the matter with me? I never seem to do anything right.” In some situations, the child takes the blame even if something is not his or her fault.

8. Over-dependent on others

Such a child may rely a lot on parents and siblings, even to make friends. He or she has very few friends and mostly prefers to stay at home.§

9. Fearful and pessimistic

The child has what appears to be unfolded fear. He or she keeps telling others of the danger that may befall them, even where there is no apparent threat.

8. Procrastination

The child constantly puts off things for later. The usual curiosity of doing things is lacki


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