How to build self-esteem

Life skills

How to build self-esteem

This section helps you to:

  • Think about the effect of ADHD on a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Identify ways to help build a child’s self-esteem.

On this page:

  1. Why self-esteem is important ↓
  2. The effects of low self-esteem ↓
  3. Building self-esteem ↓

Why self-esteem is important

Children with ADHD generally have lower self-esteem than those without ADHD. As a result, children with ADHD may:

  • Expect to receive more criticism and less praise than other children
  • Feel bad about themselves, particularly in comparison with their siblings or other children
  • Constantly feel that they have failed, even in day-to-day tasks such as being unable to sit still when asked
  • Feel that they are failing their parents, for example through poor test and exam results
  • Struggle with social situations, for instance they may experience difficulties in making and keeping friends
  • Focus on the bad things they have done, rather than the good things in all the other parts of their life.

Therefore it is very important that parents, carers and teachers recognise that:

  • There may be many valid reasons why children with ADHD sometimes feel bad about themselves
  • How a child is praised, rewarded and disciplined can affect both how they see themselves and their development.


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The effects of low self-esteem

Effects of low self-esteem, expecting to fail, expecting to be told off, loss of confidence

Living with ADHD, children may have low self-esteem and self-confidence. They may have experienced stigma, as not everyone believes ADHD is a neurobehavioural problem, and some actually believe it is the fault of the child, or is due to poor or bad parenting. Children with ADHD may also suffer from anxiety or depression, which may undermine the efforts they make to build their confidence.

For example:

  • A child who expects to fail may stop trying
  • children with ADHD can find it hard to accept compliments
  • If a child loses confidence, they may doubt what they can achieve.
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Building self-esteem

Here are two tools to help you think about ways to build a child’s self-confidence.

Ideas to help build self esteem

A guide providing ideas to help build a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem


Building self-esteem in daily life

A cartoon strip giving ideas to help build a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem

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Biederman J, et al. J Clin Psychiatry 2006;67:524-40.

Brod M, et al. Health Qual Life Outcomes 2012;10:47.

Brod M, et al. Prim Psychiatry 2005;12(6):58-64.

Coghill D, et al. Child Adoles Psych Mental Health 2008;2:31.

Coleman D, et al. Psychiatr Serv 2009;60:950-7.

Dosani S. Calm your hyperactive child (2008). Oxford, UK: Infinite Ideas Ltd.

Elia J, et al. Child Adoles Psych Mental Health 2008;2:15-23.

Klassen AF, et al. Pediatrics 2004;114;541-547.

O’Regan F. How to teach and manage children with ADHD (2010). Nottingham, UK: LDA.

These materials have been produced with practical advice and guidance provided by the expert European ADHD Awareness Taskforce.