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Creating Self-Esteem

What is the typical Warwick boy like? Creative? Curious? Confident?

I’m sure we’d hope so! After all, each one has passed a demanding examination and interview process to be here.

Sadly, however, a considerable number are surprisingly low in self-esteem and give themselves punishing messages such as ‘That was stupid! You should have done better. You’re just not good enough.’

Where do these messages come from? As parents and teachers, our aim is to encourage and appreciate – so why do so many boys beat themselves up? Or demand perfection of themselves?

Prof Steve Peters, author of the best-selling ‘The Chimp Paradox’ has an intriguing theory which he calls ‘The Fridge Door Syndrome’. Read about it here:

According to him, our best-efforts to praise and encourage when a child is tiny can lead to a belief that he or she is only valued for ‘achievement’, rather than who he or she is. Hence, ‘achieving’ becomes something that must happen or we are ‘not good enough’ or ‘should do better’.

Achievement in itself, of course, is not the bug-bear and nor is ambition – it is the attitude of unkindness to the self which is so damaging. If we have a relentless desire to achieve and achievement is our measure of self-worth, every mistake becomes a reason to punish ourselves, rather than a time to treat ourselves with compassion and gently look for what we can learn from the situation.

Some children are lazy, it’s true, and doing badly will be the result of not putting in the work – but some stop putting in the work because they see no point. Expectations are so high that they know they can’t achieve them. Others work their socks off, always trying to meet expectations that are unrealistic. Either way, the result can be really low self-esteem.

As parents, teachers, friends – companions on our children’s journeys – what can we do to help?

Here are four ideas:

  1. Make a vow never to compare our children to their siblings, relatives or friends. Whether the object of comparison is ‘better’ behaved, ‘better’ academically or ‘better’ socially, it doesn’t matter. Being compared with someone else rarely helps us to step up to the mark, it just makes us feel like we’re falling short and are ‘not good enough’.
  2. Be positive and encouraging about our children’s interests and experiences, even if they don’t match our own interests and enthusiasms.
  3. If our children genuinely dislike something or don’t like it even after they’ve given it a good try, accept this preference graciously and allow them to stop it.
  4. Know and accept your child’s abilities and have realistic expectations.

Essentially, to foster self-esteem, we have to aim to celebrate who the person is and who they want to become, rather than their achievements.

by Meg Harper, School Counsellor