How a person views and values himself will have a significant impact on almost everything a he/she does – the way one relates to others, the way one approaches activities, to the way one copes with adversity. This also has a marked effect on academic performance, notably motivation to learn, ability to focus and willingness to take risks. Thus, healthy self-esteem provides a firm foundation for learning as well as confidence, to name just a few.

This discussion will take a tour through the house of self-esteem; how it interacts with the successes of a person and the effective ways a supportive figure in a person’s life can help in promoting it. First, let’s understand the significance of self-esteem.

Self-esteem is one of the key building blocks of school and life successes. Also referred to as self-worth, self-esteem is not a measure of a person’s capabilities, but rather his/her evaluation of those capabilities. It reflects feelings of being accepted and valued by others, the perception of how one measures up to others and the confidence and ability to cope with challenges. In short, it represents one’s satisfaction with one’s self as a person.

High self-esteem empowers individuals to take on life’s challenges. Young people with healthy self-esteem are comfortable with who they are and confident in their abilities. Optimistic about the future, they believe they can overcome most obstacles. They may have short comings, but are not consumed by them and are not defined by them. They may experience disappointments, but are forgiving when they don’t meet all goals. There may be frustration but there’s also an inner strength that keeps them from giving up. In this sense, self-esteem helps to inoculate this group against the despair-and even depression-that may accompany low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is the result of a gap between the way a person would like to be – the ideal self vs. the perceived self. Young adults with low self-esteem feel they cannot do anything right. Perceptions, however, are often distortions of the truth. Frequently putting a negative spin on accomplishments. They may discount as unimportant what is done well and give undue weight to what is done poorly. Comments of others may be misinterpreted as negative or critical. Mistakes serve to reinforce this negative view of these perceived abilities, rather than be understood and accepted as a normal part of learning. Beliefs may give rise to self fulfilling prophesies: expecting to fail, one may put forth little effort resulting in poor performance/results, which reinforces his expectation of failure or fulfills this prophecy. These young adults may also experience social and emotional problems. Fearful of rejection, they may be tentative in relating to peers and prefer solitary activities. The common behaviors exhibited may include:

  • Belief of unlikely success even with hard work
  • Giving up easily when frustrated
  • Discouraged by experiences with failure vs learning from mistakes and moving forward
  • Sensitive to judgments from others
  • Timid in relating to peers
  • Self deprecating
  • Shies away from academic challenges
  • Has difficulty concentrating in class, work, future plans
  • Reluctant to speak up in situations noted above
  • Hesitant to seek assistance when needed
  • Approaches new situations with anxiety
  • At increased risk for dropping out of school, quitting job…

Self esteem wanes as children go through school. During preschool and the early elementary years, children are typically confident, as evidenced by their curiosity and eagerness to learn. As they move into higher grades, they become increasingly aware of how their performance compares with that of their peers and siblings. Confidence and self-esteem take a downward turn for many students during their middle and high school years. Children’s self-esteem is affected by their perception of success or competence in four basic areas;

Family: do they feel valued and respected by parents and siblings?

Peer interaction: do they feel accepted and sought out by classmates?

Academic ability: are they confident of success with most academic tasks?

Physical attributes: are they content with their physical appearance? Do they feel confident and skilled in athletic activities?

Some students feel unsuccessful in any area and experience a pervasive sense of worthlessness. Others may feel confident in some areas and confidence in academic skills. Other students may be secure in their ability to read but feel inept in math. Still another may feel valued and accepted at home but sense a lack of belonging in school. If a student feels competent in the areas that are individually important, he/she is likely to have high self-esteem; conversely, if he/she is deficient in certain areas-or perceives a deficiency, low self-esteem is a likely result. The areas that are important to our young will most likely reflect the values of the family and community. Thus, a child who is physically awkward in a sports-oriented family may have low self-esteem. Similarly, a slow learner in a high-achieving family may feel especially self-conscious about academic deficiencies.

Those with learning disabilities often experience low self-esteem. Many are confused by the mixed messages they receive as a result of their ability to do some tasks and inability to do others. As their failure experiences mount and they become increasingly discouraged, they may write off their strengths and conclude they are dumb or there is something wrong with them.

Self-esteem is not inborn, but rather learned and the building blocks are laid early life as children learn to feel loved and valued. They begin discovering about themselves as a result of feedback received from important people in their lives. The key adults in a child’s life, notably parents and teachers, play a vital role in promoting feelings of confidence and competence. While they can foster the child’s self-esteem through supportive words and actions, they can also cause self-esteem to plummet. Its is not unusual for children to receive mostly negative feedback from adults, but its true that ten times more negative messages are received than positive ones. They are bombarded with a constant stream of “don’ts”, “cant’s” and “shouldn’ts”, both in homes and schools.

As the children grow and becomes less egocentric, they show increasing awareness of how they measure up against peers. Their perceptions of being accepted and their ability to get along affectively help to shape their feelings of self-worth. This is especially true during the teen years. In particular, their success in school plays a crucial role in how they perceive themselves. In middle school and high school, they are particularly focused on failures and dismiss their successes. There’s a significant component of peer and social importance at this juncture.

As students and young adults grow up, some may grow out of this on their own but having a warm and supportive environment or authoritative figure to listen and be their advocate – is definitely a huge plus. Many young people do not have this. The developmental stages noted are difficult for all as these young people try to figure how they fit into the world. Very few come through without experiencing at least some of these feelings. As an adult, it’s very important to consider your actions or reactions to our young people dealing with so many things in a very different world from which we grew up in. This writer hears too many stories from teenagers trying to talk to their parents saying “They just don’t get it”. Upon further questioning, it’s clear that parents don’t seem to understand the true role social media plays in this generation’s lives. It’s not going away. It may change/update to different apps, but it’s not going away. Parents and teachers need to understand or admit they don’t get the significance to this generation and ask for a better understanding and listen. If they don’t, they are pushing their young loved ones away leaving them without the loving and supportive environment crucial to get through these difficult times.

On this same subject, wording or comments are very important. If your loved one comes to talk to you about “his/her friend dealing with a difficult problem going on…” and you dive in with “He should do this. She should do that…” Your son/daughter is hearing what you would say if he/she was dealing with the same problem and instead of being supportive, you are spouting out what the friend should be doing. It’s a test. Don’t fall for it. Be supportive. “Do you have any thoughts on how to help your friend?” “Is there anything I can do to help or would you like me to just listen for now?” Did you know Silent and Listen have the same letters in them? Parents, teachers who want to make a difference in their students emotional IQ, listen up (listen being the opportune word – or should I say group of letters).

The following are strategies for both parents and teachers to help students and loved ones who are struggling with self esteem issues:

Replace Negative Self-Talk with Positive Self-Talk

Internal messages of low self-esteem are generally very negative. The public comments made most likely reflect one’s own private speech. If you hear things like “Other kids can do this. Why can’t I?” “I got lucky with that one,” or “Nobody likes me,” you can be sure this is also part of the negative self talk going on inside. Try to counter this by exposing misperceptions and offering a more positive and realistic view of any/all abilities. Provide feedback that will turn into positive self-talk such as “I’m in the high reading group, so I must be pretty smart,” “I was elected to the student council so other kids must like me,” or “if I work hard, I’ll eventually get it.”

Show Evidence of Progress

It is important that you show confidence in one’s ability to be successful, but pep talks may not be enough. Focus on strengths and help him/her appreciate the progress made. Show visible evidence of growth by keeping a chart of progress, comparing papers/projects from earlier in the year to later successes, or demonstrate how the certain work problems very difficult now come easily.

Help Cope with Failure

Your role is not only to show how to minimize difficulty, but also how to cope with it constructively. Teach skills and knowledge on how to appreciate that failure is a normal part of learning/life. Impart that accomplishment rarely comes without setbacks. Convey the belief, failure is temporary and with perseverance and new strategies, you are confident that success will be the end result. Ask to recall a time when there was a difficult task but with hard work success prevailed. Always allow him/her to express frustration and acknowledge any feelings. Then move on to help understand the source of the problem and provide or seek out strategies to help or improve.

In Disciplining, Be sure to Focus on the Behavior Rather than the Individual

With low self-esteem, some may misbehave. There should be a communication but not different treatment. Convey concern with the behavior not with the person. Remember that calling a person bad, cuts right to self-esteem.

Provide Challenges that Engage

Give work that engages one’s mind, stretches abilities, while making sure it’s within his/her capabilities. Presenting tasks that are too difficult will quickly discourage the learner; presenting tasks that are too easy will leave an unfulfilled feeling. Use your knowledge and the learner’s frustration tolerance to determine the appropriate difficulty level. Make sure it’s completed, even if prompting and additional time is needed. As confidence is increased, provide somewhat more difficult work and lessen your involvement.

Create Opportunities that Allow the Young Adult to Feel Important

It’s easier than one might think to create opportunities and allow for one to feel a sense of importance. Provide a task or job stating you are confident he/she will do well. Seek out any opportunities that allow for young adults to help others. It’s hard not to derive self-esteem and personal satisfaction from the act of giving to another person.

Give Special Attention to One’s Interests

People gain self-esteem and a sense of purpose from being involved in activities that are meaningful to them. Find a few minutes everyday to talk with the them about their interests and concerns. Bear in mind, what seems trivial to you may be very important to another. Offer ways to pursue interests in greater depth, and suggest greater involvement in related extracurricular activities.

Be Especially Encouraging of Girls in Secondary School

As girls enter middle school, they often experience a slump in confidence. Make a special effort to promote their self-esteem and be aware of any subtle tendencies on your part to expect more from boys than from girls. Avoid particularly gender-based teaching practices in math and science – subjects in which girls are generally less confident than boys. Old school thinking.

If You Are an Educator!

Teachers are usually very conscientious about letting parents know when a child has a problem, but not nearly as diligent about notifying them when one has a success. Take the time to send a note, email or call when the child does something especially well. Let the student know how proud you are. The gesture home may only take a moment could just brighten a student’s day and generate positive responses from the parent(s) to the child. But certainly, at the very least, the praise from school will make the student “beam”.

To conclude…

Self-esteem is not something that teachers can give to students. Rather, it results from real effort and genuine accomplishments. It comes from meeting what they perceive to be real challenges – in short, from earning it. It is not just students experiences with failure that lessens self-esteem, but also their interpretation of these experiences. Parents/teachers should promote self-esteem and prevent low self-esteem. A child doesn’t come in this world with low self-esteem. The nurture/environment dictates what direction it’s likely to go.

Published on several sites

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