You may see this sign in relation to school and school work. Children get nervous and upset about tests, homework, and sometimes about going to school. The problem is they think they will fail even when there is no reason for them to worry. They do not do their homework, will not participate in class, and do not risk failure. Sometimes a child with self-esteem problems does his homework but not turn it in. The risk of teachers and parents getting upset is not as bad as failing.
This type of self-esteem problem also may be seen in other areas. The young person worries and frets about not looking good enough and may even think he looks weird. He may avoid other children because he is afraid of being embarrassed. He thinks he will fail socially or may think he already is a social failure. New people and activities are always a problem because he does not know what new ways there might be to embarrass himself or to fail. He thinks almost anything or anyone may be a new chance for him to be rejected.
What is going on with the child? It is one of those things so obvious you can completely overlook it. Yes, it has to do with how the youngster thinks about and feels about himself. More importantly, though, it has to do with how he thinks others feel about him, how he thinks they will react to him. Children with low self-esteem believe people do not like them and they will never be accepted.
Is a child with low self-esteem worrying and fretting about not doing well and about failing? Yes; but more to the point, he worries more about ridicule, rejection, and angry reactions. If this were not bad enough, he knows it is still worse to just be ignored.
A couple of things are helpful. Problems with low self-esteem are very stressful for children. For example, worrying and fretting once in a while about failing is not all that significant. All children do this sometimes. Still, some children often feel like this; and for them, their stress is severe. If you frequently see this behavior in your child, be alert to signs of stress and look for times when you can back off a little and reduce the pressure on him to work harder or do more.
When your child is working on something or thinking about doing something, be sure you resist the temptation to say things to him like, “Don’t worry. You’ll do fine. You’re getting upset over nothing.” This only says to him you do not understand how upset and afraid he really is.
It is better for you to say, “I’m proud of you for taking a chance on yourself. I think it will work out fine but don’t know for sure. I just want you to know I’m here for you no matter how it turns out. Your being willing to try or at least thinking about it tells me you are my kind of person.”
Your goal is to find within yourself enough patience and sensitivity to first try understanding and then supporting your child’s struggle. Your support needs to be there for him however it turns out. He is important to you; and knowing he belongs and is accepted by you boosts his self-esteem all by itself.
When your child does take a chance and try, actively acknowledge the good points about what he does. At the same time, do not be dishonest. Do not say he did well when it is not true, tell him things are going fine when they are not, or try to convince him people like him when they do not. Resist the natural temptation to tell him it does not matter because it does matter. You and he both know it matters a lot.
Do you have enough respect and caring for your child to be honest? For him to know you do is a very positive and loving thing. Within the love and honesty of your relationship, you can authenticly encourage him, support him, give him ideas about how he can succeed, and be there for him when things go sour.