Improving Self Esteem

Preschool students dancing, listening to male teacher playing guitar in classroom
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We've long known that when students feel good about themselves, they are much more likely to become better achievers in the classroom. Fostering can-do attitudes and building students' confidence by setting them up for success and providing positive feedback along with frequent praise are essential tools for both teachers and parents. Think about yourself, the more confident you feel, the better you feel about the task at hand and your ability to do it. When a child is feeling good about themselves, it's much easier to motivate them to become academically proficient.

Self-Esteem Comes First

What's the next step? First of all, in order to help improve self-esteem, we have to be careful in the way we provide feedback. Dweck (1999), a proponent of the growth mindset approach, argues that having a particular goal orientation, (learning goal or performance goal) to base feedback on as opposed to person-orientated praise will be more effective. In other words, avoid using statements like: 'I'm proud of you'; Wow, you worked hard. Instead, focus the praise on the task or process. Praise the student's specific effort and strategy. For instance, 'I notice you selected the cube-a-links to solve that problem, that's a great strategy.' I noticed that you didn't make any computational errors this time!' When using this type of feedback, you've addressed both self-esteem and you've supported the child's motivational level for academic goals.

Tips for Building Self Esteem

Self-esteem is important in and out of the classroom. Teachers and parents can support self-esteem by remembering some of the following:

  • Always accentuate the positive: Do you ever notice those suffering from a low self- esteem tend to focus on the negative? You'll hear statements like: 'Oh, I was never any good at that. 'I can't keep friends'. This actually indicates that this person needs to like themselves more!
  • Give children the opportunity to tell you 10 things they like about themselves: Prompt them to state things they can do well, things they feel good about. You will be surprised at how many children suffering from low self-esteem have difficulty with this task — you'll need to provide prompts. (This is also a great beginning of the year activity)
  • Avoid criticism: Those suffering from low self-esteem struggle the most when given criticism. Be sensitive to this. Always remember that self-esteem is about how much children feel valued, appreciated, accepted, loved and having a good sense of self-worth. Having a good self-image. Understand that as parents and teachers, you play one of the biggest roles in how good or bad a child can feel about themselves. The influence of a parent or teacher can make and break a child's sense of self-esteem. Don't abuse it.
  • Expectations must always be realistic: This goes along with setting children up for success. Differentiated instruction is key and goes a long way to ensure that teachers know their students and ensures the types of tasks/expectations match the child's strengths and ability levels.
  • See the learning in errors or mistakes: Turn mistakes inside out and focus on what was or will be learned from the mistake. This helps a child focus on the positive, not the negative. Remind students that everyone makes mistakes but it's how those mistakes are handled that makes the difference. We need to see them as learning opportunities. Powerful learning can often be the result of a mistake made.
  • Self-esteem is an important component to almost everything children do: Not only will it help with academic performance, it supports social skills and makes it easier for children to have and keep friends. Relationships with peers and teachers are usually more positive with a healthy dose of self-esteem. Children are also better equipped to cope with mistakes, disappointment, and failure, they are more likely to stick with challenging tasks and complete learning activities. Self-esteem is needed life-long and we need to remember the important role we play to enhance or damage a child's self-esteem.

Reference: Dweck, C. S. (1999) Self Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Hove: Psychology Press, Taylor and Francis Group.