Q&A: My 9 Year Old Son Has Low Self Esteem

CME WebsitesBehavior, Building Self Confidence

blockquote_bgMy son is nine years old and seems to cry or act like he is hurt when playing sports or sometimes in school. These events seem to follow events where my son missed a play or didn’t get a tackle, or when he can’t figure out a math problem in class. We currently do not have academic concerns as he seems to understand his homework and tests on an average level. I am not sure if this behavior arises because he does not want to get into trouble or be yelled at, or from personal disappointment?
His teacher does not yell at him, he has had coaches yell at him but not all, and his father and myself try to use a firm tone, but not yelling. All of his activities have been his choice and we don’t mind what activities he does. Maybe I am misreading my son; he is definitely more sensitive by nature. He is not shy, he is very social and likes to have lots of friends. He does complain about getting teased, and I have heard other children calling him a baby. Will he grow out of this or do I need to seek help? I am concerned about his self-confidence.

I would definitely take your son’s behaviors seriously, especially if you think he might be being teased or bullied by classmates or team mates. Your son may be very sensitive by nature without being shy and although he has many friends and does well academically he could still have low self-esteem. His tears or acting hurt can be his expression of being afraid of failure or being afraid that someone will make fun of him or punish him, even if this isn’t the case. In these early school age years a child’s self-esteem is very fragile. You can help build your son’s self esteem by giving him the reassurance that you accept him even when other people do not. You can help him understand that life has ups and downs and that sometimes we fail at school work or miss a play in sports, and it makes us feel bad when it happens, but that is ok.

Encourage an open line of communication with your son and ask open ended questions such as “That test looked really hard, what did you think?” or “You seem like you’re feeling sad about something” and then actively listen for your son’s response. I would also speak to his teacher and/or coaches and see if they notice anything out of the ordinary or can help support you in boosting his self esteem. Even on bad days you can help develop self-esteem by saying things like “Wow, that was a tough game, but you really tried your best and that’s what counts”, always respect your son and support him during times of failure. This is a link to a nice article on self-esteem.