Boys approaching puberty and their teenage years are particularly likely to suffer from a crisis of confidence. It’s a confusing, frustrating and difficult time: so much is changing in both their bodies and their worlds that they often feel the easiest way to deal with it all is to either retreat inside themselves or lash out.
So how do you know if your pre-teen son is losing self-confidence? There are several tell-tale signs and changes in child behaviour to look out for.
Giving up easily
When faced with any kind of challenge, from playing a board game to learning a new skill, boys with low self-esteem may stop and give up without really trying. They may make excuses, sulk or get angry, or even seem visibly scared. This can often be because they’re worried about failing.
Putting themselves down
Does your son regularly make comments such as “I’m useless”, “I’m so ugly”, and “I can’t do anything right”? People with low self-esteem can be incredibly self-critical, and hugely concerned with how other people view them. They find negative criticism hard to handle, as it reinforces the low opinion they already have of themselves. They also have difficulty accepting praise and compliments – they don’t feel worthy of them.
A lack of self-belief can lead boys to distance themselves from their friends, become disinterested in activities they used to love, and avoid new events or experiences that would mean stepping out of their comfort zone.
A lack of self-esteem doesn’t always make a child quiet and withdrawn – sometimes it can have the opposite effect. For example, your son could become disrespectful, bossy, stubborn or argumentative. He may start blaming everyone else for his mistakes; begin underperforming at school; or start copying poor behaviour he’s picked up from friends. This could all be a smokescreen to disguise the fact that he’s not happy or confident in his own skin.
How to handle low self-esteem in teen boys
As a parent, all of the above can be heart-breaking to watch. However, there is plenty you can do to help your son through this tricky time.
1. Take him seriously
If he says he’s bad at something, don’t just reply, “No you’re not!” or tell him he’s being silly. It’s more helpful to acknowledge his feelings and ask him why he thinks this way. Reassure him that everyone feels like this sometimes, and let him know you’re there for him if he wants to talk.
2. Teach him how to handle criticism
Explain that criticism can actually be a positive thing, showing us what we can change and improve upon to become better people. Equally, sometimes it simply reflects badly on the person dishing it out. Help him to see the difference.
3. Challenge stereotypes
Show him that being male can mean all kinds of things, not just stereotypes like ‘strong’, ‘big’ or ‘tough’. Introduce him to older boys or male adult friends who are different from one another. Try to widen his world view and show him men who are good at things he’s interested in – funny men, clever men, sporty men, quiet men and kind men, for example.
4. Never stop telling him you love him
Keep doing things together as a family and don’t try to make him grow up too soon, as it can be reassuring to do things he liked when he was younger.
5. Don’t try to solve all his problems for him
Get him to visualise how happy he’ll feel when he has managed to do something he thought he couldn’t. Encourage him to find his own solutions by helping him break down challenges or difficult tasks into smaller, easier steps and goals. Then, when he achieves them, show him how proud you are.
6. Let him be the expert sometimes
For instance, he probably knows more about technology than you – have him teach you a new skill. Don't criticise his taste in music – let him introduce you to new music or recommend a film. Pretend to like it, even if you don't! And definitely don’t criticise his taste in fashion or hairstyle. Encourage him to take care of his clothes and look after his hair and skin, providing the products he needs to always looks his healthy, attractive best.
7. Think about the example you’re setting
Good parenting is about treating him with the same respect you show your partner. Be honest with him, and explain and apologise when you make mistakes – this will show him it’s okay to get things wrong.
8. Encourage him to exercise
Working out is a great mood-booster and helps let off steam, plus mastering a sport can improve his confidence no end. If your son isn’t traditionally sporty, look beyond football and running and try different activities such as martial arts, rowing, climbing, swimming or archery until he finds his niche.
9. Don’t over-react
Remember it’s a normal part of kids’ development to self-doubts at times. Confidence is something that builds up over time, and your son will eventually learn that feeling good about himself comes from inside, rather than what other people think of him. Right now, he needs you to be calm and to make any problems seem manageable.
This feature has been brought to you by Head & Shoulders, which is committed to boosting your whole family’s confidence.
We would love to hear from you with any tips or advice you have for raising confident boys. Please add your comments below.