Self-esteem is a greater predictor of a child’s success than intellectual ability or natural talent.
Numerous studies support this notion. For instance, a longitudinal study by The London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance followed the fortunes of all babies born in a particular week in Britain. There was clear evidence that children with a higher self-esteem at the age of 1 0 got more kick to their earning power later in life than those with higher maths, reading and other academic abilities.
The study found that ‘high self-esteemers’ had less chance of being unemployed later in life and if they were, they would soon be back in the workforce.
Parents and teachers intuitively know that feelings of self-worth and positive self-esteem are important. But what is self-esteem and how do you know if your child has healthy self-esteem or not?
Self-esteem is a healthy and optimistic view of one’s value. If a child evaluates him or herself positively and realistically rather than negatively and unrealistically then it is usually deemed that they have healthy self-esteem.
Most of the research available tells us that children with healthy self-esteem do the following:
1. Take reasonable risks. They will try new tasks even if success is not assured.
2. Display favourable attitudes to others. Children with healthy self-esteem don’t need to put others down to feel competent. They get a kick out of others performing well and are not threatened by the success of siblings or friends.
3. Generally behave well. Children with healthy self-esteem generally believe ‘I am okay as I am.’ They do not have to find their place in their family or in groups through misbehaviour.
4. Highlight their own strengths, successes and skills. Healthy self-esteemers neither put themselves down when they do well nor do they exaggerate their own skills or successes to gain a sense of superiority. They tend to make realistic appraisals of their abilities.
5. Downplay and accept mistakes, failure and imperfections. They don’t dwell on mistakes or failure. They seem to understand that mistakes are part of the learning process. They are annoying and hindrance but they don’t necessarily prevent them from trying again.
6. Are willing to try and show initiative. Conversely, children with low self-esteem give up easily or show little confidence in areas that are new.
7. Acknowledge their own contributions to success. They take realistic credit for their successes without be boastful or saying that any achievement happened due to luck or good fortune.
8. Compare themselves to similar children or young people, not glossy images. It is natural and healthy to compare yourself to others but the choice of yardstick is critical. Children and young people with low self-esteem tend to use unrealistic figures as yardsticks for success. While we often encourage kids to aim high, kids with low self-esteem are easily put of by failure so the choice of role model is critical.
9. Have a positive outlook and use positive language. Take note of the language a child or young person uses. Healthy self-esteemers know how to positive track or reframe negative situations into positives and low self-esteemers so problems rather than challenges.
10. Believe that personal limitations can be worked on. Children with healthy self-esteem know that success is linked with effort. That is, hard work is no guarantee of success but it certainly increases its likelihood.
In the past it was thought that we could enhance self-esteem by simply making a child feel good about themselves. This is too simplistic indeed.
The building blocks of self-esteem are multi-dimensional and include the following four aspects:
o positive parent, family and teacher interactions and expectations
o positive peer interactions
o coping skills and,
o successes that demonstrate competence and mastery.
Parents and teachers need a range of skills and strategies to help children develop a healthy self-esteem and maintain it even when events conspire to really challenge them.
Self-esteem building is important as the way a child perceives him or herself is far more important in determining future outcomes than pure ability and academic competence.