The Parent-Teacher-Child Connection: Is a child's self esteem misunderstood?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is a child's self esteem misunderstood?

Has your child's teacher told you that she has low self esteem?  What exactly does that mean?  It's possible that she is simply too shy to volunteer answers during a group discussion.  It's also possible that she feels dissatisfied with everything she does.  Which is the worse scenario?  Obviously the second. 

I've seen well-meaning parents attempt to make perfect children by requiring them to re-do incorrect homework assignments.  When that happens, a child sees that his work is not good enough to hand in to the teacher; nor is it good enough to satisfy a parent.  His self esteem goes down a few notches. Yes, we want our children to succeed, but not at the expense of their basic self-worth.  How then can parents get their children to do better in school while building on their self-esteem?  Simple - by focusing on what they did right, rather than what they did wrong.  Let's go back to the homework issue.  If you look at a math assignment and see four wrong answers but six right answers, focus first on what the child did right.  Then, when he sees that he has the capability for getting the right answer, show him that four answers could be improved. (Don't say they are wrong, simply say they can be improved).  Now here's the hard part, parents ... walk away!  Let your child figure out all by himself what he needs to do.  If he decides to hand in the paper with the wrong answers, then accept that maybe he was tired that night and simply couldn't think about math anymore. It happens!  Harping on him will chip away at that self-esteem problem the teacher mentioned.  Repeat the process the next night by again observing what he did right.  Eventually, your child will learn that he can get the rest of the answers correct if he builds on what he knows.

So, how then is self esteem misunderstood?  Because many parents and some teachers feel that every child needs a reward for good behavior.  Does anyone give you a reward to doing the dinner dishes, getting the kids ready for bed, and then putting a load of laundry in the washing machine before you collapse in front of the TV?  No?  I didn't think so.  You've formed your own intrinsic reward system because you know if you didn't do those things, your home would fall apart.  A child needs that same intrinsic motivation, and that's why it's so important to walk away after you tell your child that some of his math problems need to be reconsidered.  Certainly, you can welcome his smiling face when he fixes them, but then comment, "I'm sure your teacher will be just as pleased as you are with your progress."  Ah!  You found the magic words - just as pleased as you are (intrinsic motivation) - not how pleased you are (extrinsic motivation). 

A recent study has shown that low self esteem causes increased materialism and raising self esteem decreases materialism. So, by raising your child's self esteem through intrinsic motivation, you'll be saving yourself some money.  And that's wonderful motivation for any parent!

Happy parenting!

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