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Children with Severe Behavior Problems: 5 Ways To Build Self-Esteem

SONY DSCMost parents today desire children who do everything they’re told. It is so much easier to raise children who know how to listen, follow rules, and respect authority. But reality today, is very different. A lot of our kids are frequently diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, or ADHD. It is difficult to treat these kids, find useful behavior tolls, and simply get these kids up in the morning to get to school. For the most part, these kids are difficult! The fact that these kids are difficult usually has an effect on the way that they perceive themselves.

When children are constantly told what to do, when they are constantly yelled at, when they are constantly told that they don’t listen or behave correctly, or that they are failing in school, they usually internalize those statements about themselves. These internalized statements become their self-esteem. Kids are almost like bowls, indeed bowls. Anything you put in them usually sticks, or what you don’t put in them, the bowl remains empty. Nevertheless, kids are like magnets and they pick up on everything around them including an adult’s response to their behavior problems.


Sometimes when kids internalize all of the negative messages about themselves, they began to act out even more. These kids already feel worthless, unloved, or misunderstood. When kids feel this way, they stopped trying. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy happens when a child internalizes what someone else thinks about them. What the person thinks about the child, the child becomes. In situations like this, it is important that adults be mindful of how they deal with children who have behavior problems. Behavior problems are typically present among children who have developmental disorders such as autism, mental retardation, or even Asperger’s disorder. Behavioral problems are also common among kids who have severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or severe psychotic depression.


But there are five ways to protect children from their own way of viewing themselves:


1.)    Treat kids with respect: even if these kids have behavior problems, they are rebellious, oppositional, they talk back, they act out it is helpful if the adult in the situation treats the child with respect. This is called modeling. Modeling is very powerful in the lives of young children and even adolescents. Modeling is also called vicarious learning. The child is learning behavior by watching another individual. This is powerful.

2.)    Show kids you understand them: a lot of kids act out because they don’t believe the adults in their lives understand them. When children feel unheard, unloved, or misunderstood, they act out either consciously or unconsciously. Either way, kids must feel the adults in their lives get them.

3.)    Talk to your child: believe it or not, kids pick up on everything in their environment, the good and the bad. Kids typically internalize everything they experience. Whatever they internalize typically comes out as behavior problems. It’s important to keep in mind that some behavior problems are the result of internalized pain. Talk to your child.

4.)    Seek therapy: it’s difficult to find therapy in today’s world as a result of insurance costs, lack of income, or simply not knowing where to turn. But children and teens often benefit from talking with someone other than their family. Some kids are embarrassed to talk to their family, to their parents, or to even teachers in school. This is where a therapist comes in. A therapist is close enough to make a difference yet far enough not to make them feel bad about the way they feel. You can find therapists at

5.)    Be creative: some kids simply are not going to talk to you. Sometimes a child’s self-esteem is so broken that they don’t even know where to begin to tell you why they behave the way they behave. Sometimes kids express themselves best art, recreation, or even music. Find a creative way to help your child open up.

With all of these tips it’s important to keep in mind that a child’s self-esteem is extraordinarily weak. They are coming into a world where they are trying to understand their identity, where they belong, and what all of this is about. While they are seeking a self-identity, it is important that parents do everything in their power possible to help their kids develop a healthy self-esteem. If you decide to use any or all of these steps, make sure that you let your kid know that you love them, the to appreciate positive attributes, and that you believe they can do better. It all boils down to you showing them that you value them.


I wish you all the best


Photo credit: Gabriella Fabbri

Children with Severe Behavior Problems: 5 Ways To Build Self-Esteem

Támara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC

Támara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC, is a licensed therapist and internationally certified trauma professional, in private practice, who specializes in working with children and adolescents who suffer from mood disorders, trauma, and disruptive behavioral disorders. She also provides international consultations and works with some young and older adults struggling with grief & loss or life transitions. Hill strives to help clients to realize and actualize their strengths in their home environments and in their relationships within the community. She credits her career passion to a “divine calling” and is internationally recognized for corresponding literary works as well as appearances on radio and other media platforms. She is an author, family consultant, Keynote speaker, and founder of Anchored Child & Family Counseling. Visit her at Anchored-In-Knowledge or Twitter and Youtube Youtube If you are interested in scheduling a telehealth family consultation, feel free to let me know. *Ms. Hill has moved all content to her other social media platforms. Take care!

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APA Reference
Hill, T. (2014). Children with Severe Behavior Problems: 5 Ways To Build Self-Esteem. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Feb 2014
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