As parents, we can recall how challenging our teen years were, so we can be empathetic when we see our teen children struggle. When their struggles come from low self-esteem, our empathy can turn to heartache on their behalf. Mere assurance of how great we think they are isn’t likely to convince them of their worth. Here are some suggestions about how to help our teens.

1. Recognize Signs of Poor Self-Esteem

Teens with low self-esteem will show it in their body language, including walking with their heads down and shoulders hunched. You may hear them use negative phrases about themselves, such as, “I’m probably going to fail this test,” or “I could never do something like that.” If your teen attempts a task at home and fails, their verbal disappointment may be out of proportion to the task. Low self-esteem can also be evidenced by retreating to their rooms and avoiding activities they used to enjoy.

2. Understand Possible Reasons for Their Feelings

Hearing repetitive negative messages about themselves – from peers or family – can lead to a poor self-image. The same website suggests that teens who are labeled as “different” can become targets for bullying, which often causes teens to have a poor opinion of themselves. One common cause of feeling different can be receiving orthodontic treatment, which typically starts around age 12. Many teens find such changes in their appearance to be a severe blow to their already-shaky confidence and lose any sense of their worth.

3. Point Out Positive Facts

Remind them that many other teens share some of the things they see as detriments (like braces). For example, if getting braces has upset them, you can tell them that 3.5 other teens have the same experience each year. If they say something like, “I mess up everything,” you can counter it with a reminder of their most recent success.

4. Let Them Know You See Them

Teens can be challenging to talk to and may be unable to explain their feelings. Despite this, your ability to help them starts with reaching out to them. Start with an “I” statement, like, “I’ve been noticing you haven’t been meeting your friends any longer,” or “You seemed upset when I picked you up from school.” Whether your teen opens up immediately, they will understand your willingness to listen.

5. Listen for Later Revelations

Once you’ve let your teens know you are ready to listen and want to help, they may begin to give you clues about what is bothering them. You may hear them say they don’t fit into their class or friend group. You can let your teen know that they’re not alone in this feeling (after all, statistics show 59% of people don’t feel comfortable in their skin). Whenever you see them do something praiseworthy, let them know you noticed it.

6. Assign Small Projects

When teens have poor self-esteem, they frequently feel like they can’t do anything right. Parents can help their teens increase their estimation of themselves by giving them small special projects around the house or for a family member. You can pay them a small amount to entice them; the important thing is to give them something you know they will be able to accomplish. Once they feel that accomplishment, they may begin to incorporate that feeling of success into their way of seeing themselves.

When your teens show poor self-esteem, listen to what they say. Show them your unconditional love and repeat positive facts to counter their negative self-talk. If your efforts aren’t progressing, find a mental health counselor with experience working with teens. With help from a professional and your love and support, here’s hoping your teens will soon show improved self-esteem.