Your Child’s Self-esteem

How do you know if a child has high or low self-esteem? What are the factors that influence a child’s self-esteem development? Find out how you can make a positive impact on your child’s self-esteem.



A healthy self-esteem lays a strong foundation for a child’s future social interactions. Dr Vanessa von Auer, founder of VA Psychology Centre, says self-esteem is a child’s protective shield against life’s challenges. Children with high self-esteem learn to be resilient, accept disagreements, take challenges in stride and learn from mistakes. Thus, they tend to be good at problem-solving and are able to manage uncertainty and change. Children with low self-esteem are self-doubting, prone to emotional distress and have problems interacting with others. How do you know if a child has high or low self-esteem? What are the factors that influence a child’s self-esteem development? Find out how you can make a positive impact on your child’s self-esteem.


Identifying Healthy Self-esteem

Dr von Auer defines self-esteem as a child’s sense of overall self-worth or self-respect. A person’s self-esteem manifests in his attitudes and behaviours. Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre says children with high self-esteem are usually relaxed, communicative, expressive and engaging. Dr von Auer says a child with high self-esteem not only enjoys interacting with others but also knows her own strengths and weaknesses and is at peace with them. This self-assurance leads to emotional stability, and together they form the foundation of many socially beneficial behaviours. As such, both Koh and Dr von Auer point out three qualities characteristic of children who have high self-esteem; they are sociable, resilient and can problem-solve effectively. She is able to take problems head-on. The occasional mistake or negative experience will not influence how she views herself and her abilities.


Identifying Unhealthy Self-esteem

Both psychologists Motherhood spoke to point out that children with low self-esteem often doubt themselves and can be shy or hesitant to engage in activities because they do not want to fail. They usually do not like to be in the limelight.


Dr von Auer says they are likely to think or say things like “I can’t do it”, “It’s too hard”, and “I’m not good enough”. Koh adds that these attitudes may lead to anti-social behaviours like the isolation of oneself. Because of the inadequacy they feel, Koh says children with low self-esteem tend to be self-critical and have poor social skills. As a result, they are prone to anxiety and emotional distress and take a longer time to bounce back from setbacks.



Too much confidence can be bad too. Dr von Auer says children who have unhealthily

high self-esteem may be boastful, arrogant and somewhat delusional about their abilities.



Development of Self-esteem

Dr von Auer believes that self-esteem is inherent to a certain extent but is heavily influenced by a child’s experiences. The responses she gets from her interactions with others affect the way she perceives himself.


According to her, self-esteem begins in infancy; the way babies are taken care of and responded to are the first building blocks of a child’s self-esteem. As a child grows older and becomes more cognizant of her environment, her self-esteem is more prone to influence by others’ responses towards him. Koh explains that when a child is praised for drawing a cat, she concludes that she is good at it, feels good about it and would be motivated to do it again. By the same argument, if she is (criticised for her effort, she is) convinced that she is not good at it, associates negative emotions with the action and would likely avoid doing it again.


Koh adds that self-observation also plays a key role in the imprinting of positive and negative experiences. Thus, besides negotiating others’ responses towards oneself, the self also forms impressions of oneself by making judgements of what she observes in her environment.



Dr von Auer suggests that interactions with family members

have a greater influence on a child’s self-esteem in her early years

whereas their peers would have a greater influence

 on their self-esteem in their school years.



The key factors affecting a child’s self-esteem can be summarised as:


  • How important the person a child is interacting with is to her
  • The quality of the experience
  • The intensity of the experience
  • The skills and abilities a child possess


Dr von Auer says a child would likely imprint an experience as negative if people important to her react negatively to it. As such, the child would likely feel negative about future similar situations. Whether the experience is positive or negative and beyond whether it is derived from self-observation or others’ responses, Koh says the duration and frequency of an experience determine the degree to which it influences one’s self-esteem. For example, a child who is subjected to frequent name-calling (verbal) and physical abuse would have a more negative experience than someone who occasionally gets unfavourable responses. The effect on self-esteem would also be different for someone who is constantly self-critical and for someone who occasionally feels inadequate. A child who knows she is capable of doing things would be better equipped and feel more confident to face challenges that arise.




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