Abby Betz, LSW – July 21, 2021 –
As a school social worker, I have worked with students of all ages in both public and private schools. I have found, unfortunately, that the majority of students are unable to verbalize what they like about themselves. Most students lack the ability to talk about positive conditions of self-worth.
I recently did an activity with second grade students and asked them to think about things they liked about themselves or what character traits they possessed which were most desirable. Although this may be a tough concept for some students to grasp, most students were unable to name something about themselves that they liked, with the exception of superficial or materialistic things, such as, “I am good at sports,” “I like my shirt,” or “I like my hair.”
It became evident that most children may not receive constructive feedback in the form of positive conditions of self-worth from their parents, caregivers, family, or friends. This saddened me, and I wondered, “What can we do to teach our children to love themselves for reasons other than being athletic or beautiful/handsome?”
As imperative as this is for parents and caregivers to understand and practice, it is equally as important for school staff to instill these skills in our children, as we spend a great deal of time with them every day. The following suggestions can help adults empower children and teach them to value their strengths.
- Introduce positive conditions of self-worth at a young age. Simply telling your child, “you are important” can be the catalyst to promoting positive self-worth as they grow older. By incorporating positive affirmations into everyday life, children will begin to understand how much they matter and recognize that their caregivers and teachers see them as worthy of their time, love, and attention.
- Focus on the positive. Providing praise and encouragement for achievements and good behavior instead of focusing on the negative or end-result can improve your child’s sense of self. Including your child in the decision-making process in your family (depending on the situation) can also help a child feel empowered and important. This is equally as important to practice at school as it is at home.
- Allow your child to grow from their mistakes. Fostering a positive growth mindset in children by providing reassurance that their abilities can improve over time helps reduce the pressure to be perfect. Teaching children that making mistakes is okay and turning these mistakes into “teachable moments” is a valuable learning opportunity. Kids will understand they have the power to problem solve and come up with solutions on their own.
- Encourage extracurricular interests or hobbies. Supporting your child’s passions can help them discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Deciding what activity your child is going to participate in without their input will stifle their creativity and erode the feeling they have some control over their own lives.
Creating positive conditions of self-worth is extremely vital to the development of children with learning and thinking differences as well. Giving children with all abilities the skills to recognize their strengths helps boost self-worth and makes for a successful childhood and future. In the words of American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”