How important is it to have “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself”?
That’s how Merriam-Webster defines the term self-esteem — and while it sounds simple enough, there is much more depth and importance to the word than its definition lets on.
Building confidence and self-satisfaction is critical on its own, but self-esteem is actually more like a personal foundation on which many other emotional and mental states rely.
The greater confidence and satisfaction we have with ourselves, the more likely we are to have ambitious goals, to take care of ourselves, to strive for achievement, to seek out positive relationships and to take risks. Having a healthy self-esteem is to realize: “I have value, I deserve respect, and I should respect other people around me. When faced with a challenge, I have what it takes to succeed.”
Unfortunately, children with complex challenges are often confronted with words or actions that deplete their self-esteem rather than enhance it.
They frequently find themselves in situations where the cognitive and social demands of what they are asked to do outstrip their abilities. They hear comments or criticism about what they are not doing well and what they what they should be doing instead.
Rather than value of self, low self-esteem can easily take hold of these children. And if someone truly believes that are not worth much, why would they demand others treat them well? If they think they are doomed for failure, why would they attempt new challenges and seek risks?
At its worst, a low sense of self-worth can also lead to toxic relationships, substance abuse, social withdrawal, antisocial behavior, and dropping out of school.
Last year, Peg Dawson, Ed.D., taught us that children with executive functioning deficits ideally need a 10:1 ratio of praise for each correction. While this can be a significant contrast to their reality, the good news is there is a lot you can do to help you child.
Here are six ways to help boost the self-esteem of your child with complex challenges:
#1: Catch them succeeding.
Actively and purposively “catch” your child being good. While Peg Dawson’s 10:1 ratio may be a stretch, we can all surely come up with three items of praise for every correction. Of course, make sure your praise is authentic; your child will know if you are not really proud of them. If you need guidance, check out our rubric for powerful praise.
#2: Bring out their talents.
With complex challenges come amazing talents. Find your child’s talent, praise them when they engage in with their expertise, and let them shine.
Bill, who is graduating from The Quaker School at Horsham this year, has headlined our play for years. Despite his challenges, he can command an entire stage with his dynamic and impassioned acting.
James, a student in our Lower School, competed in the painting competition at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair this year and received second place out of the thousands of students from all over Pennsylvania.
All children have special talents, and nothing boosts self-esteem like achievement!
#3: Find a best-fit school.
Your child’s educational institution can make all the difference. If your child is not appreciated in their school and it is crushing their spirit, your family might need a change.
(Though I don’t typically tout The Quaker School on this blog, I would encourage you to consider our school if you are looking for a place where your child will be known and loved.)
#4: Stop beating yourself up.
Children watch and adopt what we model as parents and teachers. (This is a scary thought for me personally, because I am one seriously imperfect model!)
As adults, we need to be careful about making statements disparaging ourselves. If you complain about your weight or blame your boss for not getting that promotion, your kids will hear you and likely mimic you.
This does not mean you always need to be a Positive Pollyanna; reflecting a growth mindset and accepting personal responsibility will go far. Using a phrase like “I am going to eat healthy tonight” instead of “I feel fat,” or commenting “I’m going to find a new office culture that better reflects my values” instead of “my boss doesn’t like me” will help empower yourself and your children who are listening.
#5: Advocate for your child.
Bullying should never be tolerated. If your child is being bullied or harassed, contact the school and work with them to be sure this toxic behavior stops immediately.
#6: Teach your child coping strategies.
Resilience is one of the most important attributes your child will use in life. Learning strategies for managing anger, stress and the unexpected will lead to greater successes, which then will help you child feel better prepared for the next time they are challenged.
Programs like the Zones of Regulation – which we use here at TQS – can help teach children to identify what they are feeling and how to get what they need. The most impactful way to improve self-esteem is through success, and success is achieved through building your child’s life skills and strategies.
Have you employed any other methods of building self-esteem with your children? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below, or on Facebook.