By Dr. Michael McManmon, CIP Founder and author of “Made for Good Purpose”
Educators, psychologists and friends tell us the same thing: “If _______ only had more self-esteem or could just be in the right school or with the right teacher, etc., etc. It is very frustrating trying to put our fingers on the very subjective concept of self-esteem.
Experts tell us that self-esteem is unconditional, positive self-regard. How do people get it? They tell us we get it by having successful interactions in various areas of our lives, which generalize into positive self-worth. Self-acceptance is another concept that is often thrown around. How do we teach that? They tell us that the person has to be ready to change – for us to let go. If I let go, will everything go down the tubes? Who should I believe? What’s a person to do?
From my perspective, social and emotional growth precedes all other growth. If you miss an emotional development step then you continue to encounter it in struggles throughout life. We all know adults who are very competent but are very immature in a certain area of their life. Can a person undo all this damage?
Answer: Many adults and most young adults can. What can a parent do? The real question is: What can a parent be? You’ve heard this before: You can lead a horse to water… you can’t do it for him/her, let go, etc. Well, it’s true. But you do have an active role. You can be the example by being as balanced as possible and taking care of yourself emotionally, spiritually and physically. This is the single most effective strategy for building self-esteem.
Regarding self-acceptance: It’s vitally important that we not be in “denial”. You’ve heard that word. Accepting who we really are and our student’s real abilities and disabilities is the quickest and best way to get on with the solution and get on with our lives. Otherwise, we spend years and countless dollars pursuing inappropriate programs or often grandiose solutions, which will only leave us with the same set of problems. And, after all, real self-esteem can only grow out of real successes that we know we accomplished through hard work and change. Obstacles are overcome with effort and perseverance. Are we setting our own child up to fail if we either buy into their denial or persist with ours despite their abilities and desires?
Self-esteem is funny. You can’t fake it. You can’t just get it because you want it. You have to feel that you as a person have really been able to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. Other people’s feedback can help, but only if you believe it is actually true and know that you did it.
The students are constantly comparing themselves to their more gifted brothers, sisters, cousins and friends and falling short. We need to support them in accepting who they are and what abilities they have. The message is clear. God made them who they are, in all their uniqueness, and all they are required to do is their personal best.