“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass

Our kids have so much choice these days. It certainly is a different world they find themselves in to that of say, 20 or 30 years ago. We had no internet, no MTV, no cell phones, iPads or Facebook. They have more opportunities for education, travel and all the benefits of modern technology. But are they equipped to handle the challenges of this new, fast-paced world? Does more fun necessarily mean more happiness and contentment? I’m not so sure.
And yet we know that if some of us had just had more self-confidence then perhaps we would have made some better choices too. So how can we adults best lead our kids to make good, healthy choices for themselves?

I would like to share with you some ideas on how to do just that. Our main aim is to look at the area of self-esteem in children. Why is it so important, what difference does it really make to a young person to have a solid, positive sense of their value and worth. How do we foster a spirit of healthy self-esteem in our kids?

A child with a high self-esteem has the ability not only to excel academically, but also has more strength to ward off bullying, peer pressure, and other difficult scenarios that often occur with school aged children from pre-elementary to high school and college. Healthy self-esteem will affect how a child forms friendships and relationships. It also affects how well they perform in exams.

As we all know the primary educators are the parents. Good self-esteem comes from getting positive feedback for who we are and not just for our achievements. It comes from getting love and acceptance from our parents, even when we have made mistakes. It comes from being taught that when life is good it’s okay to enjoy it.

I used to assume that ‘smarter’ people were more successful-they had to be! However, my experience of over 25 years of teaching children and teachers, and as a counsellor and therapist has changed my mind. I have met many “intelligent” people who are neither happy, healthy or successful in life. I have also met many people of “average” intelligence who are extremely happy, healthy and successful. Can an individual with an average IQ be more successful than an IQ genius? I have come to realise that “common sense” is not really all that common at all. Psychologists now call this quality “Emotional Intelligence” or EQ for short. . It is emotionally intelligent people who are most able to adapt to difficulties and challenges, therefore most likely to learn, succeed and survive. Good self-esteem is vital if the child is to be emotionally intelligent.

When life is tough and hard, as it often is, emotional intelligence shines through. The emotionally grounded child and adult can see the bigger picture. They can dig deep, believe that they have value and purpose and carry on, knowing that somehow things can and will get better.

It’s a tall order for parents, yet in teaching children this approach we come to believe it ourselves as we notice that things actually CAN and DO work out for the best, eventually.

The second most important influence on your child’s self-esteem is the school environment. Some schools have a guidance counsellor to assist children through difficulties, but the ratio of counsellors to students is typically low and getting lower by the year. Due to the lack of resources in schools, teachers are often overstretched and reduced staffing and bigger classes mean that it is proving more difficult for teachers to identify children at risk and provide the proper support for them. At home, parents themselves might be over stretched and unable to give proper individual care to particular children in need of attention and reassurance. You cannot afford to leave this all-important life skill to chance.

Here are some tips for fostering self-esteem in children:

• Firstly, let home be a safe and welcoming place for children, no matter how they are feeling or what they are going through. Be there to share their happiness and also give them the space they need or the listening ear and support they need at other times. Above all let them feel they can always come home!
• Parents should know that school is much more than a place to learn academics. It is a place to build the whole student and transform a child into a responsible, caring adult.
• The learning environment, school, should feel safe and comfortable for all students. It should be a place that supports the diversity and the strengths and weaknesses of all children. Often class sizes are too big to account for the individuality of all children. Check that the school and individual teachers are aware if your child needs any extra support.
• If a child does not want to attend school, you should think about seeking help. It is important to become involved in trying to find out why the child does not want to attend. Intervention from an outside professional unrelated to school is often a big help.

The way children view themselves can depend on how they feel about their competence in a particular activity. Self-esteem is also influenced by the child’s general temperament and even family birth order. It is both psychological and sociological in nature. The experience of being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness is the psychological aspect, while the competence, or meeting life’s challenges and learning how to bounce back from failures or mistakes is the sociological.

When we heap praise on a student, their sense of worth may elevate, but competence may not. This is why it is not only important to work on self -worth, but also to work on a child’s ability to achieve their highest potential. That can come from accomplishing meaningful things, overcoming adversity, bouncing back from failure, assuming self-responsibility, and maintaining integrity – all of which the FerrisWheel Learning4Life program helps children with.

Early on, it’s parents who affirm the young person’s worth, then it’s the teacher. Later still peer pressure is a powerful source of one’s sense of self. At that stage, no matter how much students have been swamped with praise from parents, what their friends think of them is most important. This is a natural and necessary stage in the progression from childhood to adulthood. It is also the time which can be most challenging for parents as their children seem to pull away and reject us. It helps parents to know that this phase will definitely pass. It also helps teenagers when we don’t try to force things, so just give them time and space to begin making their own decisions and mistakes. They definitely need you to be there for them.

So how do we balance support and challenge? The solution, rather than praising without merit, seems to be providing children and teenagers with an opportunity to succeed. The Ferriswheel Learning4Life programme offers exactly this. Self-esteem that comes from aiming for and reaching goals helps build resilience for students. The Ferriswheel Program unblocks obstacles to learning in the brain, helps children target their learning and set goals that are attainable, while giving them constructive feedback along the way. This results in self-esteem rising and the children feel in charge – this can also help parents understand how to give praise when it is earned. Children often want opportunities to feel successful.

One of the ways in which we do this at the clinic is by reframing the child’s image of themselves. Michelle Borba, US known author and consultant on self-esteem and achievement in children agrees. “Reframe children’s images of themselves. Find one positive trait that is earned and deserved—artistic, great smile, kind heart—and let the student be aware of it.”

As Henry Ford put it: "If you think you can or think you can't, you're right."
Reframing an image in the brain generally takes 21 days, so reinforce the same trait for a few seconds a day for 21 days. This is how the FerrisWheel Learning4Life program works. Once the child starts to change what they believe about themselves their behaviour changes too.

We become what we think we can become. Even worse, too often we become what other people expect. If you are "programmed" to succeed, you are more likely to succeed. And if you are "programmed" to fail, you are more likely to fail, hence the vital importance of providing positive feedback and promoting a healthy sense of self-esteem in children, and in ourselves too.

Teachers’ views clearly affect learners’ achievements. Positive appraisals over an extended time tend to increase the level of learning. Prolonged or consistent negative appraisals tend to lower learning achievement. Students tend to perform in accordance with teacher expectations and treatment - self-fulfilling prophecy (Loomans & Loomans 1994). Teachers find that students with low self-esteem exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:

• learning problems
• social and emotional problems
• behaviour problems

The FerrisWheel has two programs specially designed for teachers. Anne Marie has developed these over her many years of specialist experience with the challenges of learning for teachers and children. We offer trainings to become FerrisWheel Learning4Life specialists. We also have a wonderful FerrisWheel Outreach Program – a wonderful 8-week program for use within the whole school setting.

Author's Bio: 

Anne Marie Ferris is founder of the Ferris Wheel Learning4Life system. She has over 25 years’ experience as a teacher, therapist and certified Master Trainer of NLP. If you have questions you would like her to address she can be contacted through her website http://www.theferriswheel.org/ or by email: annemarie@ogalearning4life.com