SELF-ESTEEM, IDENTITY, & CHILDREN'S MENTAL HEALTH: Six steps for a better experience this school year
by Callie Collins
Aug 29, 2023
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As families settle into the new school year, challenges beyond first day jitters and new routines begin to surface. Children’s sense of self often affects their ability to solve problems, empathize and develop coping skills.

Developing positive self-esteem also correlates with children’s ability to focus, according to leading research. “Distractibility” is a newer term that is sometimes expressed as anxiety, depression or difficulty with learning; major life stressors, like experiencing a major life change, including moving or suddenly facing the loss of a parent, can also become important triggers. Low self-esteem is associated with loss of identity, lower grades, substance abuse and difficulty with task completion.

Cultivating self-esteem is a vital part of family life, with parents having a key role in helping instill a sense of personal value that can last a lifetime.

According to, intentional steps to help your child with self-esteem can include these concepts:

1) Recognize situations that affect self-esteem

Talk with your child. Open conversations are key in understanding what is happening in their lives at school and outside of it. Knowing how to address situations that arise as children grow and socialize with others is not always easy but it is necessary, even if that reaction is best handled with words instead of actions. Be aware of what is bothering your child.

2) Challenge beliefs about self that surface with triggering situations

Once situations are identified and the feelings associated with them are clear, help your child recognize that their conflicting emotions are not always true statements of fact. Whether rational or irrational, perceptions of self are often influenced by others. Contrasting lived experiences with assumptions or false beliefs is something parents are especially good at because they have a broader perspective.

3) Counter negative perceptions

Parents typically know their children best. The unique ability to counter negative self-talk or others’ opinions can be based on previous life experiences together, other positive examples and knowledge of the child’s unique abilities. Teach your child to see nuances and look beyond black and white thinking, give themselves the benefit of the doubt and sidestep destructive patterns. Focus on what they have learned, how to think positively and that tomorrow is a new day with a fresh start.

4) Teach additional skills

Coping skills may be better explored with a therapist to find methods that work for your child. However, starting with “What can we think and do to make this situation less stressful?" is a beginning point. Let children see you ask for help and try new things. Model empathy, forgiveness and the ability to try again.

5) Make healthy habits part of your family’s home culture

Diet, exercise, sleep and screen use all affect mental health. Limit sweets and saturated fats. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Encourage at least 60 minutes of physical activity. Establish bedtimes that allow for at least eight hours, preferably more, of REM sleep. Curb screen use in adolescents to just 30 minutes or less per day. Find out more about the movement to delay introducing smartphones until eighth grade and the neuroscience behind it at

6) Engage in pleasant activities

Answering key identity questions ties into interests, hobbies and abilities. Let your child lead with what they love. Let them lean into it and encourage their skills. Allowing others to define or harm us is less likely when there is a clear sense of self.

Find more about ways to help children’s mental health and self-esteem at 

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