Dealing With Low Self-Esteemed Cadets

Before I begin I would like to make it very clear that I am very mindful of Mental health issues and how they can affect a cadet. I am merely trying to help a cadet who seems to be struggling, not trying to change him or mock him.

At my squadron we have a new recruit who has very low self esteem and clearly suffers from anxiety issues. We are being as aware of this condition as possible, and I have made sure all staff and NCOs treat said cadet respectively, because the last thing I would want is for him to get into trouble for something out of his control. I always try to praise him when he does something well and remind him that he’s a part of the team and he’s doing well, without singling him out, but my question is how I could help aid him to become a better cadet, and help overcome some of his struggles.
Some of his symptoms include that he fidgets a lot, stutters a lot, looks down when speaking. I always make sure not to pressure him too much and make him feel more anxious and am always mindful to keep him in a comfort zone. Does anyone have any tips for helping for things such as drill and standing to attention without fidgeting and shuffling about. Once again I appreciate this is a very sensitive topic and I understand that mental health issues are long term things that can’t be simply overcome. If anyone has any tips they are greatly appreciated.

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Treat him equally but sensitively. Possibly controversial, but i’d be wary of not giving him into trouble for something someone else would (as you allude to). Doing this can cause your cadets to lose respect for you as an NCO and become angry at the cadet. However, this does not mean you cannot speak to him and try and understand, which i’d encourage you to do.

With regards to drill, maybe try and start him off doing basic drill on his own with an NCO (if possible). This could reduce his anxiety around people judging him.

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Awesome, I’ll take the disciplinary advice on board, because I’ve never been too sure about how to go around that. One on one drill could also help him refine his movements too. Thanks for that!
The only issue I have is that we’ll teach him drill, and he can do it, but when it comes to standing during final parade, he’ll always be moving about and shuffling, and I’m just not too sure how I can deal with that without being too harsh on him.

I can help and give some ideas but without appearing condescending, can you tell me your position at the Squadron? Message me direct if you prefer.

Just a cadet sergeant

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I suppose it all depends how willing they are to speak to you about it.

It’s possible that as he becomes more comfortable his symptoms will reduce (I would assume they are elevated from being in a new and unusual situation). If your cadets are understanding then it may be less of an issue being more lenient on him but this is dependant on your situation. If you emphasise to him (obviously without being condescending and treating him like a toddler) that it is beneficial to him to be stood relatively still on parade then it may help. A lot of this is dependant on the person (age/maturity/level of anxiety) hence why I say “may” a lot.

Thanks for coming back sergeant. Well done for spotting and caring about this cadet. I will put together some ideas for you tomorrow.

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Have their parents been spoken to ascertain if this is restricted to being at Air Cadets (doubtful) and what they and the school do in relation to this?

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@Cadet04 thanks for all that, I’m going to spend some more time getting to know the kid and make sure I’m there for him if he ever needs everything. I might go ahead and assign him a JNCO that he can trust to talk to and share anything he’s experiencing.
@Farriersaxe As far as I know they haven’t been spoken to yet, but I’ll discuss this with the OC and try to approach them with solutions we can offer, and ask how they deal with it at the moment.
@Ex-Everything thanks, greatly appreciated👍🏼

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Predictably, I have lots of questions about this cadet (lets call him Cdt Joe) including age, how long he has been at the squadron, knowledge of home life etc.

My starting point would be to speak to the CO as there could be information that is relevant to Cdt Joe that he/she is empowered to share. If you have any child safeguarding concerns then again raise this with the boss so that he/she can act accordingly.

As per message, it would be easier to correspond with you and your CO directly on this as I have questions and we could fill the forum pages with stuff which might not be appropriate. I’m happy to give you and your boss a steer based on previous experience.

Not knowing all the answers to my questions, here are some words of caution when “trying” to help:

  • Unless qualified or steered by someone who is, be very cautious about how help is given and perceived.
  • Young people with anxiety issues can become very dependent on you. Despite everyone’s best intentions this can have a very negative impact especially when the dependency is with one individual and they happen to miss a night or worse still, leave.
  • Agree a plan with your CO. There could be multiple things going on with Cdt Joe that the boss may know but also he/she can liaise with the parents / guardians. Parental / Guardian involvement is really important as is keeping them up to date with everything. This can also help Cdt Joe as he starts to get a support network going. Granted the home situation could be the whole reason for his anxiety but only the boss can make the call.
  • Don’t be in a hurry :-). You can make a positive impact but this takes time.
  • Agree some ground rules with your boss and Cdt Joe. This protects you, the organisation and Cdt Joe. An example being, Cdt Joe tells you about something that is going on at home that is abuse. You have promised him that everything is confidential and now you’re torn between betraying trust and notifying the boss.
  • Baby steps, baby steps, don’t do too much in a short space of time.
  • Finally, improvement of confidence and self-esteem is generally something that comes to cadets quite naturally. Its almost a right of passage and in a lot of cases, individuals improve through their own attendance and being part of the Squadron. “Helping” Cdt Joe needs to be controlled.

Hopefully I’m not putting you off but there is a fine line between making a difference and getting yourself dragged into the situation. You have to constantly remind yourself that Cdt Joe is one of a number of cadets that all deserve time and effort. Granted, it sounds like Cdt Joe needs some propping up for a little bit but please work with your CO and not jump to conclusions.

There’s a lot of negativity in my post, sorry… the fact that you have spotted Cdt Joe is fantastic and I’m sure you and the Squadron will have a positive impact on him. I completely agree with @Cadet04 replies, good sound advice in my opinion.

Contact me again when you have spoken to your boss and good luck with the exams.


The corps has now started to roll out Mental Health Awareness and resilience training. Although initially for staff a course is being developed for senior cadets.

I’ve heard about this and I’m not sure in some ways if it’s wise.
For these things to be of any use they need to be more than just a day of powerpoints and chat from someone with no experience, following a script. I’ve known people who work in mental health and no thanks, I know I couldn’t do it, just from some of the things they’ve said.

\When it comes to cadets who have ‘low self esteem’, just apply the general rule of softly, softly catchy monkey. Try and be their friend is a difficult path to tread. As said they could become too attached, so that when either that person leaves or tries to break the relationship is can spiral out of control.
The key is do not be over-bearing about things and speak to parents. Two minutes with a parent can give you all you need to know. I can with some accuracy indicate which cadets will stay and which will go after a little while, when we have an intake, just by watching and speaking to the parents. We do not know what makes their children tick and need their input if we are presented with problematic situations.

Maybe a look inward and does the way the squadron work exacerbate the situation with youngsters lacking confidence.

I completely agree with this. They had something similar to this in our MOI and there really wasn’t much to take in except from the fact that some cadets may suffer from mental illnesses which could deteriorate their ability to work, then we listed a couple illnesses as a group.

I honestly believe there should be a mental health awareness training scheme for cadets above 16 and squadron staff, even two days of training could be the difference between cadet joe being left out and cadet joe getting something from the organisation that he can carry with him for life.

A little bit of ‘knowledge’ wrt CP and MH is a dangerous thing.

With the hindsight of experience we could end up looking for / seeing something that isn’t there. You see this with the CP we do. This is why it is an imperative that parents or carers are spoken to at the earliest. It could be something as simple as they’re taking time to settle in and struggling with some of the things they are being asked to do and scared or apprehensive about asking in case they get shouted at, or ridiculed. Which happens all too often.
This is the same thing as not asking a question in case it makes you look stupid.

Having been on the Mental Health Awareness & Resilience course I can guarantee it’s more than just power point and following a script. However I do understand your reservations. I’m a fan of just asking someone how I can best help. Ask them what works and what doesn’t. Definitely involve where possible parents/family/ guardians. We all have limitations as well as the capacity to grow.

Does anyone have good mental health related posters that can be put up on squadron? I have visited other squadrons who put posters on the back of toilet doors and I thought this was a great idea.

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The first point you make is this cadet is a new recruit, most of my new recruits are the same. Their manner mirrors what you’ve stated for about the first 12 months.

Just give the cadet space, let them get to grips with being a member of the club and 90% of it will get sorted. In time.

I know this may be perceived as unhelpful. But hey-ho just my experience.

Not cadet posters but . . .

Second link is a dead link

There ya go. Not sure what happened.

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