The Effects of Low Self-Esteem in Children

Updated February 21, 2017

Childhood is often seen as an exciting and adventurous time of life. New experiences, ideas and possibilities abound as children learn about the world around them. A child's sense of self is also developing in the midst of these experiences. The effects of low self-esteem become an issue when these experiences discount or demean a child's sense of worth.


A person's sense of self-esteem represents how he feels about his worth, his abilities and his sense of belonging. It affects his emotional adjustment in terms of overall motivation, attitude and behaviour. Childhood is an important period in which a person's sense of self-worth develops. Negative interactions and messages received from peers and parents and other authority figures can greatly contribute to the development of low self-esteem in a child. The effects this has on a child can seriously limit his ability to develop into a well-adjusted adult.

Abusive Treatment

Children develop their sense of self-esteem from how parental figures treat them and how they judge or accept them. When treated abusively, whether verbal or physical abuse, children internalise this treatment as a reflection of who they are as individuals. The effects of abusive treatment can result in problems at school, a tendency to withdraw from social interaction, anxiety disorders, problems sleeping and acting-out behaviours. Problems encountered later on in life may result in abusive relationships with partners, legal problems or problems developing healthy relationships overall.


Children who are subjected to an abusive upbringing carry feelings of rejection, fear and isolation as a result of the treatment received. These feelings typically come out in their behaviours and dealings with others. Children who suffer from low self-esteem may smile less often, behave inappropriately in the face of conflict or withdraw from opportunities to try or learn new things. Should these traits continue into adulthood, potential opportunities may be missed due to an overall lack of confidence and motivation.


Statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report that 1 out of every 33 children may suffer from depression in the United States. And while depression can be the result of chemical imbalances in the brain, environmental factors can either worsen depression symptoms or help relieve them, especially in children. Brain development within children proceeds at an exponential rate between the ages of 1 and 6. How a child is treated will directly impact her physiological and psychological development for years to come. This high incidence of depression is one of the more dire effects of low self-esteem in children.


Effects of low-self esteem on children are noticeable, but can still be redirected towards a more positive self-image when properly handled. Issues involving self-worth, self-confidence and a sense of belonging can be addressed by acknowledging a child's feelings and encouraging communication when problem behaviours occur. Through guidance and teaching, children can develop a positive outlook on themselves and on life in general. How a parent performs as a role model also has a significant bearing on a child's use of coping skills and ability to interact with others.

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About the Author

Jacquelyn Jeanty has worked as a freelance writer since 2008. Her work appears at various websites. Her specialty areas include health, home and garden, Christianity and personal development. Jeanty holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Purdue University.