The Unpopular Truth About Building Self-esteem In Children And
At our live workshops, we often get requests for interventions
that can enhance self-worth-- and we do have many creative
methods for all age levels. However, at class, we always offer a
cautionary note: If a child hears at home that they are no good,
or the child is called racist names, or is physically assaulted
in the community, there is no strategy that can speak louder
than that fist, that racist name, or that put-down from home.
So, the best time to use self-esteem builders is when the child
is no longer being put down at home, called bad names, etc.
It may not be a popular perspective, but it is probably correct:
When children are currently facing events that generate low
self-esteem, that is a normal reaction to the abuse they
encounter. Your initial focus should not necessarily be to
counter that reasonable reaction, but instead to help the child
avoid, manage or process the abusive events.
For children who no longer face the verbal assaults or physical
abuse, or whatever caused their feelings of low worth, that is
the population for whom these interventions offer special value.
Remember though, that self-esteem doesn't strike randomly, but
generally is caused by the specific events the child has faced
or is facing now. You must address those events and not just
skim over them. With that in mind, when the time is right, here
are some fun strategies that can help build esteem:
Esteem Magazine: Have your students put themselves on the cover
of "Esteem Magazine: For Students Who Know That Esteem is More
Than Just Hot Air." Have your youngsters fill the magazine with
the items created via some of the next interventions (offered
below), so that students create a publication that captures many
of their positive qualities.
Picture Us Using a digital or instant camera, have a student
snap pictures of your class members. List on the board qualities
such as "good leader," "reliable," "kind to others" and "always
willing to help." Have students sort the pictures to fit the
categories using removable adhesive to secure the photos to the
board. Have plenty of categories so each picture can be placed.
Afterward, students can be given their photos with the correct
category noted below the picture. An award ribbon can be added.
Caught Doing Good Make award ribbons (that can attach to
clothing with a pin) and are imprinted: "Caught Doing Good."
Award these periodically to class members as the individual
student's behavior warrants it. This is a great intervention for
youth who are "always in trouble" and consequently feel bad
about themselves. Happy New School Year This activity works best
at the start of the school year, or it also works well in
January. Sometimes students feel bad about themselves because
they are failing at tasks at your school or agency. Have
students make "Happy New School Year" resolutions, which can be
placed into balloons and released into the sky (and later
recovered.) Work with each class member to develop a plan to
succeed at their resolutions. You can even have a "Happy New
School Year" party, which can make it harder to be so completely
sour and negative about your site.
Everybody Know Somebody Who Doesn't Like Them Sometimes Some
students believe that everyone should like them. Especially
during middle school, chances are that most students will be
aware that other youngsters do not seem to like them. That can
be hard on esteem. Teach students that about a third of the kids
will like them, a third won't like them, a third don't care, and
if you feel those numbers are similar to what you experience,
you're doing just fine. Students can make illustrations that
clarify what each third looks like.
Before and After Have students make "Before" and "After"
pictures of themselves, similar to the ads for weight loss
companies that show the person before and after they lost
weight. This activity can help discouraged youngsters better
imagine good outcomes. The ads can focus on any area from
earning better grades, to improving hygiene to having more
Picture This Have students cut up magazines and affix pictures
to the outside of a paper grocery bag. The pictures should show
the student's good qualities. The bags should show the student's
name and photograph, and can be titled: Picture the Good Things
About Me. A follow-up: students can write positive comments
about their peers and place the comments into the bags so that
the bags are filled with positive feedback.
Everyone Makes Mistooks Perfectionist students can quickly feel
awful about themselves when they aren't perfect, when they make
mistakes. To alleviate the anger they may feel towards
themselves for missing a question on a quiz, or misspelling a
word in a major spelling bee, help the students to discover that
"everyone makes mistooks." You first make a mistook by tripping,
for example. Challenge your perfectionistic students to make
"mistooks" such as dropping their pencils, for example. Your
goal is to reduce the sting and intensity of making everyday
Perfectly Imperfect To further show perfectionistic students
that everyone makes mistakes, teach your class that no one is
perfect, that sooner or later everyone mispronounces a word or
drops the ball in a game, for example. Teach your students that
they can't be perfect, but they can be "perfectly imperfect."
The more you reduce the anger and shame of making mistakes, that
some perfectionistic students experience, the less their self-
esteem will rise and fall based on performance. It is not
healthy to have one's esteem based on external factors that none
of us can completely control. Want more ways to work
successfully with children with low self-esteem? Consider coming
to one of my live Breakthrough Strategies classes (http://www.youthchg.com/li
ve.html), or order the course on DVD/video (http://www.youthchg.com/ta
pe.html). Some of the methods in this article came from my
"Learning to Like the Kid in the Mirror" book. View information
on this book at http://www.youthchg.com