Tweens and Teens and Self-Esteem

I’ve dealt with anger in children for roughly the past fifteen years. My boys seem to jump to anger quicker than my daughter ever did, or perhaps she was just better at being able to hide the level and strength of her anger than her brothers are capable of doing.

Both of my boys have their father’s quick temper. I admit, I can go “high and to the right” fairly quickly too, but it has to be something pretty extreme for my anger to reach the point where I want to cause physical harm to another human being. The boys? They throw a punch first and think later.

tweens teens and self-esteem

I wrote a post on dealing with anger two years ago about an incident that happened between the boys that just escalated beyond control. At the time, Tre was 10 years old, Jonathan was 13 years old. Tre’s self-esteem was at an all-time low at that age, and I was truly at a loss as to what to do to help him through this particularly rough period.

I reached out to the blogging community and Frank DiLallo reached out to me with his own story as a father of three sons. His advice to me is below:

I am an educator/counselor with over 30 years of experience. Also a father of 3 sons ages 25, 22 & 20. I was reading your query and smiling because I recall these days vividly. Your son sounds like my sons especially two of them when they were prepubescent age. This is actually very common for boys this age. I understand your frustration, concern and how disconcerting this is to see your child beat himself up all the time. I felt the same way.

This stage is actually a mild form of depression present from around 10 to 14. It will subside in time, but the key is time with lots of patience and love. I understand that you want to build self-esteem, however this is truly hormonal….even for boys. I also smiled when I saw your tag line ‘Life in a House of Testosterone!’ You’ve identified the hormone and what your son will experience another major surge of around ages 13 -16.

My youngest son, David often said he was stupid and part of this was that he saw how well easily it seemed that his big brothers did things like school and sports and he felt overwhelmed trying to measure up when he compared himself with them and others.

I would encourage you to read New York Times Best Seller Michael Gurian on his many books a few including:

What I did with my sons was for every time they called themselves stupid or anything disparaging I had them replace it with something positive. The problem is that when my sons got in the negative space it was hard for them to make the shift. It is common for boys to get very myopic. This is brain based.

To add to this you can have him write 10, 20, 30 things he likes about himself. You can even help by creating incomplete sentences such as:

  • My favorite time of day is………?
  • My favorite food is………..?
  • Three things I like about school are……?
  • My favorite subject is…………?
  • I am most confident when…………….?
  • What I really like about my family is…………?
  • One thing you can do to help me feel better about myself is……………?
  • When I call myself stupid, I am really feeling…………..(mad, sad, afraid, annoyed, frustrated, etc.)?

Boys have trouble putting feelings into words, so stupid often is code for one of the below. It helps raise empathy, emotional intelligence and bolsters self-esteem when we can help a boy understand that a self-deprecating remark is just a feeling he is going through and to help him label it appropriately.

I wish you and your sons well!

Frank offered me some extremely valuable advice that has helped over the past two years, and I wanted to share this information with you as well, if you are dealing with an angry boy child in your own family at the moment.

I am happy to report that, while the anger still surfaces from time to time, the transitional period that Tre went through between 5th grade and 6th grade has done wonders. He has blossomed seemingly overnight, at least with regard to his self-esteem. He is more confident in himself, he is firm in his convictions, and has defined his motto to be “Never Give Up, Be Relentless” in going after what he wants. He was determined that he was going to master the issues he was having with math this year, and he did so. He applied himself and stayed after school for some additional one-on-one time with his teacher, mastered what he was having a problem with, and his grades went from failing to A’s and B’s. He applies the same principle to everything he does – whether it is learning a new trick to do on his skateboard or a new dance move – he is relentless and he never gives up until he’s attained what he set to do.

Feel free to reach out and connect with me on Facebook if you need to vent. From a “been there done that” perspective, sometimes you just need someone to scream at now and again who understands what you are going through. You can also contract Frank directly if you would like some personal, professional advice.

Frank DiLalloFrank DiLallo is an Intervention/ Prevention Schools Consultant for the Diocese of Toledo.  He also provides helpful insights on bullying, and Christ-centered solutions to helping end bullying on his website, Peace2USolutions. Frank is married to his loving and supportive wife, Michelle.  He is a father of three sons and a daughter.  He enjoys spending time with his family, hiking in the woods, traveling and staying fit by competing in Olympic distance triathlons.  Frank is interested in hearing from you, feel free to contact him at

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