Warning Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Children

Low self-esteem may cause children to acquire certain developmentally inappropriate attitudes and behaviors. Read on to learn more about this issue.
Warning Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Children
Ana Couñago

Written and verified by the psychologist Ana Couñago.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

It’s important for children to learn to love themselves and see themselves in a positive light so they can grow up to become healthy and happy adults. But, unfortunately, many children don’t accomplish this. In this article, we share some warning signs of low self-esteem in children.

Having bad self-esteem involves experiencing feelings of inferiority, insecurity, failure, fear, and guilt, among others. It may make children behave in ways that hinder their optimal development.

“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-brake on.”

– Maxwell Maltz –

Warning signs of low self-esteem in children

According to psychologists Isabel M. Haeussler and Neva Milicic, a number of symptoms, traits, or attitudes often characterize children with low self-esteem. Below, we explain what they are. However, you must bear in mind that every child expresses themselves differently, depending on:

Warning Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Children

An overly whiny and critical attitude

Children with low self-esteem tend to complain about and criticize everything because they feel dissatisfied when things don’t go their way. This attitude can lead to rejection by their environment. So consequently, this makes them feel misunderstood and unappreciated by others. Thus, they victimize themselves.

A need to attract attention

These children constantly try to attract the attention of others, especially adults, in order to feel relevant and approved. However, this usually doesn’t work, which frustrates them or makes them angry.

A need to always win

These children have a pathological need to win any game, competition, or activity. They don’t value fun and enjoyment; all they want is to be the best, because they think that it’ll help them be more loved and accepted. Therefore, these children are:

  • Bad losers. They don’t accept defeat.
  • Bad winners. They overly brag about their victories.

Fear of failure and mistakes

In addition, these children tend to avoid taking risks due to their fear of making mistakes. Thus, they only answer a question or do a task if they know for sure that they’re going to do well.

This attitude of insecurity doesn’t allow them to develop their creativity. In addition, they may have excessive anxiety or concern about their homework, which may lead them to draw blanks.

Introverted and unsociable attitude

Many children with low self-esteem have poor social skills, as they’re afraid to expose themselves as they are. So consequently, this leads them to have a hard time:

  • Interacting with peers.
  • Making close friends.

Sadness and discouragement

Children with low self-esteem are usually sad and discouraged. Thus, they:

  • Rarely smile.
  • Are demotivated.
  • Lack spontaneity.
  • Lack vitality.
Warning Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Children


Children with low self-esteem are usually overly slow at performing certain activities or exercises because they never feel satisfied with what they do.

They continually try to improve and correct what they do. So consequently, they fail to be effective and productive, since they invest the same time in both fundamental and irrelevant tasks.


To compensate and hide their insecurities and fears, they may behave in aggressive, challenging, and inappropriate ways. In other words, they usually get defensive with others. So consequently, their social interactions are unhealthy.

A need for approval

Children who develop negative self-esteem want to be constantly approved by others. Therefore, they continually seek the recognition and appreciation of others, usually their role models (mother, father, and teachers, etc.). This is due to:

  • Firstly, many insecurities.
  • Also, a lack of trust.
  • In addition, a fear of dealing with their own feelings.
  • Finally, an inability to assess themselves.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Haeussler, I. M. y Milicic, N. (1995). Confiar en uno mismo: Programa de desarrollo de la autoestima. Editorial Catalonia.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.