Huge numbers of young people perceive themselves negatively.
And it’s getting worse.
Left unchecked, low self-esteem can cause a range of problems. It can lead to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness… which in turn can develop into more serious mental health problems.
It can also reduce a child’s educational attainment and impede their capacity to reach their full potential.
The secret of self-esteem
The secret of self-esteem hides in the word itself.
Esteem is about estimation – guesswork rather than facts. That means self-estimation is someone’s guess about their worth or capability (because people often judge themselves by their ability to perform).
The problem lies in how the education sector measures performance.
It focuses on the academic, omitting the emotional component. A child with low self-esteem has a faulty perception of their ability. This lack of self-belief influences their academic performance – which, in turn, affects their results and progress.
When a person feels incapable of performing a task, they approach it with the expectation of failure.
This, in turn, brings on a range of negative emotions – such as inadequacy, insecurity, anxiety, frustration, stress, or anger. It reduces their ability to self-regulate.
So… how do we go about changing a student’s poor self-estimation?
Here’s a two-step strategy I’ve found effective in real classrooms with real students to boost their self-esteem.
A two-step strategy to affecting change
Often children with low self-esteem will repeat phrases like, “I can’t” or “It’s too hard!”
To counteract this, find a situation where the child has succeeded in the past, or where they accomplished something significant. A situation where they have performed well or overcame a challenge.
Engage the child in a brief conversation to discover more about that success. Find out what happened, the context, the sequence of events and what role they played.
If they’re unable to do this, speak to the child’s parents to find something you can use as source material. This is important, as you’ll refer to the event in Step 2.
When the child projects negative feelings towards a task, use this script to remind them of their previous success:
“[Child’s name], do you remember when you [describe success they achieved], I’m pretty sure/I reckon/I think that you’ll be able to [overcome the new challenge they’re facing].”
Some element of analysis is helpful in these situations so question students about how they accomplished their achievement.
For example (even with teens), I’ll often ask them, “How did you do it?” I’ll use lots of exaggerated “Wows!” and “No ways!” when they give their reply.
I’ll let them know how impressed I am. I get them to break down what they achieved into separate stages. Then I help them explore the complexity of what they achieved.
Then, I encourage them to break down their new task in the same way. This helps them divide tasks into more manageable segments in the future. I also talk about the skills they possessed, the courage it took and point out that, in the past, they completed a task that other children found hard.
Finally, I round up things by expressing my belief in their ability. So I might say, “I think you can do it and we won’t know if you don’t try”.
It also works to develop catch-phrases with the child to remind them that they’re capable. That they attempt challenges, even when they find it difficult. Then refer to these catch-phrases during times of pressure or stress.
In my experience, the greatest joy working with children with low self-esteem is that they get to prove themselves wrong!
You’ll be able to say to them, “See, I knew you could do it! Even when you thought you couldn’t!”
Also, at the end of Step 2, you’ll have new material to use, the next time they encounter a challenge to their estimation of self.
This newsletter is guest posted by Robert Aymer.
“Hi I’m Robert Aymer; I have been working with children and young people for over to 20 years. I have worked in a variety of capacities, including church based youth work, residential social work, overseas work with children and young people in their communities, project based youth work, including children from across London, family Support work within a CAMHS team, Bereavement work and Domestic Abuse work.
I currently run my own company, Raymer Enterprises LTD, where we deliver emotional health and wellbeing services to schools across the Midlands.
You can find more information about Raymer Enterprises here.”