A Healthy Sense of Self-Esteem

It seems that the term “bullying” is everywhere these days. The nightly news is full of studies, campaigns, and tragedies all related to bullying. School staff and legislators are all trying to solve the problem of bullying.

Perhaps the single most effective tool against bullying is helping children develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. Then, when children are confronted by a bullying situation, they have the ability to ignore, shrug off, or turn the encounter into a humorous exchange. Here are some simple ways that teachers and parents can help children build positive self-esteem.

  • Spend time with your children. This makes them feel important and helps keep good communication going into the teen years.
  • Get your children involved in activities that boost their confidence. This helps them learn they have good qualities and strengths. These can be clubs, sports, choirs, etc. Maria Montessori recommended the Scouts as particularly good for Elementary age children because of the focus on skill development.
  • Allow your children the opportunity to experience disappointment and to make mistakes. Teach them how to learn from situations and move on. They will become much more resilient this way.
  • Show your children unconditional love. Let them know you are proud of their hard work and effort.
  • Encourage your children to volunteer their time. This helps them feel that they have a contribution to make to society, and they learn to have compassion for those less fortunate.
  • Acknowledge your child’s good behaviors and accomplishments. It is easy to get caught up in trying to correct bad behaviors, so the good behaviors are ignored. Point out the positives so children can focus on those things.
  • Demonstrate that you believe in your child’s competency. This is a fundamental component of the Montessori Method. If the child can complete the task himself, the adult gives him the opportunity to do it, even if it is not done perfectly or the way an adult would do it. Children will feel much more confident in themselves if they know the adults in their lives believe them to be competent.
  • Don’t limit your positive comments to just academics or sports. Actions that show generosity, cooperation, leadership skills, responsibility, and courage, all deserve to be recognized.
  • Teach your children how to be assertive, but not aggressive. Children need to know the difference between these concepts. Assertive children are respectful of others’ opinions, while being confident in their own. They are able to stand up for themselves without putting anyone else down.
  • Explain that saying “no” is sometimes the best option. Children need to learn to say “no” respectfully, when the situation calls for them to opt out of what seems like a bad idea. We probably all remember a time like this from our own childhoods!

If teachers and parents can help instill a strong sense of self-esteem in children, then they will be that much stronger to navigate the sometimes stormy seas of childhood and adolescence.

(Special thanks to Sherri Mabry Gordon for her articles and books on this topic.)