A primary need low self-esteemers have is to feel their own sense of self. Once they begin to like themselves, then interest in academics, relationships, and other social skills will follow.
As a tutor, the first stage of my work with children was not to teach reading or spelling, but to focus on liking. I tried to invite them to enjoy being in relationship with me, to like working together and, as with Albert and the children in the School Readiness Program, to prepare them to like school.
I felt if I prepared them to like school, they would expect to like it. Then, if I carefully helped them know what to expect and experience from me, then success was most likely.
In teaching children to like school, I prepared them to feel a liking for themselves. I emphasized how they were acceptable, attractive, and valuable to me. I felt if they entered the school building believing what I said about them, they would walk in with confidence.
Once in school, if they were in an atmosphere where they felt accepted, liked, and valued, they were more likely to learn the academic and social skills being taught. They were much more apt to believe they could learn if they felt like successful, capable, and competent people. They were much more likely to respond spontaneously and positively in relationships if they had expected to be liked and valued.
So the adult’s primary challenge is to prepare children to like themselves. When this happens, children tend to interpret circumstances positively (or at least realistically), rather than negatively. For example, if a teacher or neighbor says to a group of children, “You have been noisy, unruly, impolite,” the positive self-esteemer will hear the complaint addressed to the entire group, accepting proportionate responsibility as a group member. In contrast low self-esteemers are much more inclined to hear the complaint addressed to themselves alone and feel totally responsible. Children with healthier self-esteem are more likely to make a more realistic appraisal if circumstances.
Many children have a natural enthusiasm and curiosity for engaging in something new and different when it is presented as an exciting adventure. Excitement fosters liking. They are usually less excited when you stress the dangers to be avoided.
Of course, if there are real dangers to be avoided, I don’t believe in minimizing them. But they can be placed in context. Like other parents, I have warned my children, for example, not to accept rides from strangers. I didn’t try to terrify them by developing gory details about what might happen. Rather, I emphasized the dangers in a context of concern for their well being safety. I was not talking about being good children or bad. I was talking about being safe or unsafe.
Whenever possible, I found it helpful to focus on the positive aspects of an experience when I wanted to prepare a child for success. To prepare children to have a clear sense of their role, their value, meaning and importance is to help build a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Self-Esteem Principle: To develop children’s positive self-esteem, their first need is to be liked, accepted and valued-especially by themselves.