By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
If your child is a good student with a “can-do” attitude about life, you probably believe he or she has a healthy level of self-esteem. What came first – the confidence that he would do well in school, or confidence borne by the fact that he is doing well?
It’s a surprisingly complicated question that’s at the heart of a decades-long debate about the role, origins and outcomes of self-esteem as factor of success in school and in life. If you were born at a time when people actually said things like “children should be seen and not heard,” you probably had to earn a good report card and glowing praise from your teacher before your mom or dad congratulated you on your academic brilliance. If you came into the world a little later, the notions of popular culture may have led your folks to shower you with compliments at every opportunity because they thought you could only achieve success if you believed very strongly in your ability to attain it.
For most children, today’s winning formula is a blend of both perspectives. Here are some tips for building the kind of confidence your child needs to succeed academically – and for appropriately acknowledging progress along the way:
The early years. From your baby’s first steps, to the progression out of diapers, to learning of the alphabet, the years before kindergarten are full of challenges. Children who are generously praised for these accomplishments internalize the message that “I’m smart” and develop a sense of capability and a desire to learn.
Elementary school. As your child moves through the later grades of elementary, being well-organized, cooperating with others and doing neat and careful work will all have a direct impact on academic success. Sitting down and carefully reviewing homework will send the message that accuracy and neatness are valued, and will help your child build the kind of confidence that comes with well-presented work.
Middle school. In middle school, your child will face increasingly complicated academic challenges while grappling with peer pressure, mood swings and a growing desire for independence. Middle school is also a critical academic juncture for students who are struggling – a time when many basically give up on their dreams of graduation and higher education.
Help your child discover special talents that can boost self-esteem by taking advantage of extra-curricular opportunities through school or community. And pay attention to test scores and report cards for any signs that your child is falling behind.
Secondary school. From the first romantic break-up, to not making the soccer team, to losing a part in the school play, the teen years can wreak havoc on your son or daughter’s self-image. These types of disappointments can easily fray your child’s sense of connection to the school and spill into a defeatist attitude about studies.
Remember also that real accomplishment is usually the surest route to real self-esteem. With this in mind, you should help your child engage in positive activities in and out of school.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and his wife Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center. He is also a regular contributor to ParentsGuide of Las Vegas.