There is a great deal written about self esteem and what
teachers and parents can to do to help develop this attribute in
Dr. Julius Segal in the Brown University Child Behavior and
Development Letter writes that teachers have enormous power in
affecting children’s self esteem. They serve as powerful models.
He reports on a large body of research which shows that teacher’s
expectations of the child’s capacities affect not only learning,
but motivation and self-esteem. Dr. Segal feels that teachers
often provide the magical bond that allows many children to turn
their lives from certain defeat to glorious victory.
There is an article in another publication entitled,
“Raising Kids”, which gives parents guidelines on how to enhance
their children’s self esteem. The article states that, while
children’s feelings about themselves are shaped by many
influences, parents are the first and most important. These
authors recommend that parents: be responsive to needs; take time
to let the child feel loved, special and unique; love and accept
the child unconditionally; accept all of the child’s feelings as
legitimate and talk about them; give the child the freedom to
create and master challenges.
All of these experts put the burden of developing self-
esteem on everybody but the child. The assumption is that if all
of the adults do their job well, the child will have positive
self-esteem. While the adults are important, self-esteem must
ultimately come from within each child. In many cases, it might
have to come in spite of the adults around the child. In other
words, the child needs to take responsibility for how he feels.
Jill Anderson developed a program entitled, “Thinking,
Changing, Rearranging” which is based on Albert Ellis’ Rational-
Emotive Therapy. Instead of developing self-esteem by trying to
fix things for children so they will experience success,
validation and love, this program provides children with
knowledge and skills so they can take control of their inner
environment regardless of what happens in the external one. The
program helps children take charge of their day and become
responsible for their feelings. Children are helped to give up
the belief that they “have to” feel a certain way “because of”
what happens. They learn that they are in charge of their beliefs
even though they cannot control events and people around them.
The program helps children distinguish amongst fact and
rational beliefs and irrational beliefs. Unnecessary emotional
pain is often caused when children treat an irrational belief as
a fact. When this happens we have the beginnings of racism and
sexism and acts of people like Hitler.
The following are eleven irrational beliefs which will cause
them problems: Everybody must love me. I must be good at
everything. Some people are bad and must be punished. Things
should be different. It’s your fault I feel this way. I know
something bad will happen soon. It’s easier not to even try. I
can’t help being this way. I need someone stronger than I am. I
need to get upset about your problems. There’s only one good way
to do it.
These are the rational beliefs which help and do not cause
problems: Everybody does not have to love me. It is okay to make
mistakes. Other people are okay and I’m okay. I don’t have to
control things. I am responsible for my day. I can handle it
when things go wrong. It is important to try. I am capable. I
can change. Other people are capable. I can be flexible.
Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying: “There’s only one corner
of the universe you can be certain of improving: and that’s your
own self.” I encourage you and your children to begin the process.