Self-Esteem: Building a Strong Foundation

qualities-795867_1920February is National Boost Your Self-Esteem Month. Boosting one’s self-esteem is something that everyone has surely dealt with at some point. Even adults struggle with issues of self-esteem and self-worth from time to time. For teens, self-esteem, or the lack thereof, can greatly affect social and emotional development.

Merriam-Webster defines self-esteem as, “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities; a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” I consider self-esteem to be closely related to comfort level—how comfortable am I with my person as a whole? The tricky thing about self-esteem is that it can take decades to develop a strong sense of self-worth. Even then, once achieved, the comfort level is not concrete or guaranteed to last. Perhaps the most interesting thing about self-esteem is its plasticity or fluidity. Similarly to happiness, self-esteem can and will fluctuate throughout one’s life. You can be a happy person, and still experience low moments in the same manner that you can be a confident person, but still have periods of insecurity or low self-esteem.

This fluidity is especially important when discussing self-esteem with adolescents. The important thing to teach teens about self-image and confidence is that it can and will develop as we age. Furthermore, there are strategies that we can personally employ to build self-esteem.

Exercise positive self-talk: At any point throughout the day, teens are conversing with themselves using “self-talk.” This internal dialogue that we all employ from time to time has the ability to sway our moods and affect our self-perception. Almost like a chain reaction, what we think influences how we feel, which then influences how we behave. A teen that engages in negative self-talk is setting a self-fulfilling prophecy into motion. When people constantly put themselves down about their appearance or abilities, they orchestrate their own obstacles. Instead, encourage your child to engage in self-praise. Model that behavior by engaging in your own positive self-talk. Ask your child what he believes is his best personal trait. Ask him if he has any hidden talents or unique skills. Simply discussing the positives can alter your teen’s self-perception.

Discuss reasonable expectations: Self-esteem is more often compromised when we experience some sort of failure or rejection. It is important to talk through these disappointing moments with teens. Let your child know that failure is an important part of learning and growing that everyone experiences. Think of these moments as setbacks, an opportunity to simply begin again with more knowledge this time around. Also discuss the idea that perfection does not exist—there is no perfect athlete, artist, or musician. The perfect face and body are fantasies, as well. The idea is not to encourage your teen to aim low, but instead to prepare her to expect challenges in life. The more prepared your teen is to face challenges, the less she will internalize a set-back as a personal failure.

Defuse negative energy from others: Self-esteem can be greatly influenced by peers and others’ perceptions. This is especially true for adolescents, when fitting in and being socially accepted becomes more of a priority. No matter how much we want to deny or ignore it, other people’s words can greatly affect us. During adolescent years, when teens are most vulnerable and sensitive to peer pressure, teasing and other unkind gestures can compound the negative “self-talk.” When we hear others saying negative things about us, true or not, we may begin to question ourselves. Am I stupid like they say? Am I ugly like they claim? How can I be better so that others will like me? These types of questions arise when we internalize the negativity that others inflict on us. While we can’t control what other people say, we can control how we react to them. Teach your teen to ignore the negativity and focus more on his own feelings. Encourage teens to focus on the opinion that matters most—their own.

A fascinating aspect of self-esteem is the fact that we have some authority over it. In the same way that we work out to build and maintain muscle mass, we can shape our self-esteem. Yes, it takes time. It can be a lifelong process, but everything worth having requires time and effort. Talk to your teen about self-perception and self-esteem. The earlier that a child begins to feel confident in himself, and learns to maintain and build that confidence, the better.

No Name-Calling Week: A Teacher’s Approach

 

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Many people are unaware of No Name-Calling Week. To be honest, I did not know about this week-long movement until recently. We educators, however, are all too aware of the name-calling that occurs regularly in our schools.

As a former teacher, I have been privy to the impact that name-calling and other bullying can have on an adolescent. As we’ve all experienced ourselves, when students mature into adults, they become less concerned with how others view them, the names others call them, or any rumors being spread. Thankfully, with age and maturity comes a secure sense of self and disregard for teasing, bullying, etc. For middle schoolers and teens, however, arriving at this notion of self-awareness and confidence can be a rough and seemingly endless road.

As teachers and educators, it is our job to be tuned in to the goings on in our classrooms and hallways. Now more than ever before bullying, whether cyber or otherwise, can have tragic outcomes. It is no longer a case of “toughen up,” “shake it off,” or “pay no mind to what others have to say about you.” Hormones, emotions, and peer pressures have the potential to brew the perfect storm of misery for a bullied teen. With consequences as serious as depression, school violence, and suicide, we cannot simply chalk it up teenagers being teenagers. We cannot simply ask victims to “brush it off.”

Even more difficult sometimes is the fact that adolescents may not come right out and say that they are being bullied. In fact, teens tend to think that “tattling” on the bully will undoubtedly make things worse–which is often the case. A keen awareness can sometimes make all the difference for a teen that is struggling with being bullied. These are some common indicators that a student may be a victim of bullying:

  • Unexplainable injuries such as scratches, bruises, etc.
  • Frequent health complaints such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations, refusal to work in groups
  • Suddenly feeling sick, faking illness, or asking to go to the nurse regularly
  • Changes in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or constantly asking to complete classwork during lunch
  • Lethargy, low-energy, or falling asleep in class
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or frequent absences
  • Depressed demeanor or frequent crying
  • Self-destructive behaviors or mentions of suicide

If you notice some of these signs in a student, make a point to discuss observations of the student with colleagues, guidance counsellors, and other adults. Bullying is often an embarrassing and sensitive point of contention for students–the last thing they may want to do is discuss their personal woes with a teacher. Gather as much information about the student’s behavior trends and peer groups first. Then approach the student or parent if necessary.

Too often, victims of bullying believe that no one notices or cares about their struggles. Teachers can shatter this notion by being a listener, advocate, or disciplinarian if need be in bullying situations.

Parents Play an Important Role in the Anti-Bullying Movement

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No Name-Calling Week is a holiday that recognizes the importance of acceptance while taking anti-bullying measures in schools and having honest discussions about the severity of bullying.

As an educator, I am all too aware of the impact that name-calling and other bullying can have on an adolescent. However, as we all know, teens are not exactly forthcoming about their emotions. Parents especially may be left in the dark in terms of happenings at school and with peers. Moreover, the accessibility of technology and smartphones has made it even easier for adolescents to bully one another. Snapchat, instagram, vine, and other social media forums are often laden with unkind, sometimes downright harsh, remarks and comments.

Whether you personally experienced bullying as a teen or not, you likely know of someone who has been affected by bullying. It is important that parents understand just how serious this issue can be for a young person. Hormones, emotions, and peer pressures create a breeding ground for insecurity. Bullies often exploit these already-vulnerable teens, making life significantly harder in and out of school. While teens may be intent on guarding their private lives from their parents, it is vital that parents know the signs of a bully and a victim.

Signs that your teen may be a victim of bullying:

  • Unexplainable injuries, or an attempt to hide or make excuses for odd injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothes, phones, tablets, jewelry, etc.
  • Complaining of frequent headaches or stomach aches; attempting to miss school suddenly
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating after school (often a sign that a child is avoiding lunch in the cafeteria)
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares; oversleeping at any opportunity
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, sports, or other extracurriculars
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations; skipping plans or ignoring invitations from peers
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Prolonged depressed mood or talks of suicide

Signs that your teen may be bullying others:

  • Frequently in trouble for fighting or verbally attacking others
  • Sudden change of peer group
  • Noticeable increase in aggressive behavior
  • Behavioral and/or academic trouble at school
  • Impulsive, irresponsible, or reckless behavior
  • Overly concerned with popularity and new peer groups

Of course, you know your child better than anyone–and you know their level of openness with you. It is okay to have open and honest conversations about school that focus on social topics, as opposed to simply asking only about academics. While autonomy is a major part of teen development, there are plenty of occasions when parents can and should get involved. Cases of bullying are certainly one of those instances.

For more information on how parents can discuss issues of bullying and school violence with teens, visit the link below.

http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_tips_for_parents.page

 

Turning Conflicts into Teachable Moments

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Any instance where 30 or more children or teens are working in one room can have the potential to ignite a conflict. An educator’s initial instinct may be to immediately extinguish the fire, which in some cases, is absolutely necessary. However, another approach to address conflict is to highlight and dissect the moment. Speaking through a conflict certainly involves tact; however, the practice will benefit future interactions in the classroom.

Address the issue headfirst: A surefire way to allow conflicts in the classroom to escalate is to sweep them under the rug. When students feel unheard or misunderstood, frustrations build. As uncomfortable as a discussion may seem, the conflict will not dissipate until it is brought to light.

Set the expectation: As the adult in the room, it is vital that the teacher creates a safe space for conflict resolution to take place. Students need validation and acknowledgment of their feelings and opinions. Educators must practice impartiality and fairness for all students involved. If students do not trust the situation, they will not open the door to allow honest conversations.

Encourage introspection: Ask students to identify exactly what emotions they are experiencing—there is a big difference between frustration and resentment. Motivate students to think about the root of the conflict. Oftentimes, conflicts arise out of misinterpreted messages. Ask students to speak honestly and directly about what they are thinking and experiencing.

Seek common ground: Frame the conversation around end goals and ask students what they would like to see as a result of this mediation. How are the students’ desires alike? How can the group compromise to ensure that everyone is heard? Highlight the fact that both students have similar feelings—just different opinions of the situation.

Curiosity kills the conflict: Effect change in students’ mindsets by encouraging everyone involved to remain curious and open-minded. Headstrong stubbornness will only help to facilitate the conflict; it’s fuel to the fire, so to speak. Keeping an open mind and truly listening to the other person allows barriers and egos to come down. When students are genuinely curious about the other person’s perspective, empathy, understanding, and resolutions will begin to smother the fiery conflict.

Conflict in the classroom is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Quite conversely, conflicts can be catalysts for learning opportunities and social and emotional growth. Embrace the teachable moments and know that every tough instance is an opportunity to advance our understanding of communication.

The Pros of Conflict-and How to Manage it Productively

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The Pros of Conflict—and How to Manage it Productively

After graduate school, one common question that I continued to encounter from one teaching interview to the next involved conflict resolution. Of course the wording varied, but the overall query went something like this: How would you handle two students that do not get along in your classroom?

My response may have been somewhat surprising, but the explanation behind the response is something that I continue to practice in my classroom regularly.

Q: How should you handle children that are having a conflict?

A: Put them together.

Now, of course, there are underlying details that correspond with this concise response—we cannot simply force friendships amongst reluctant children. But, as much as conflict is inevitable, so should be a resolution. What I try to teach my middle schoolers every day is this: life involves conflict. Life means working with people that you don’t necessarily enjoy. Conflict can simply be a difference of opinion—it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

That said, conflict is not mediated by merely avoiding certain people. An important indicator of future success involves the ability to work with others. In any phase of the personal, social, educational, spiritual, or professional realm, we must always be capable of communicating, collaborating, and respecting others, no matter the situation.

Here are a few tried and true methods of teaching conflict resolution:

Put opposing students together

The key to this notion is simple—conflicts should not be swept under the rug. Ignoring a problem does nothing to resolve it. Instead, the negative feelings continue to fester and grow. At some point, the pressure will build to a volatile level. To avoid this, encourage students to confront conflicts as they arise. Create a safe space for students to practice healthy conversations with the help of an impartial mediator. The root of many conflicts is a misunderstanding. Often times, the best way to begin mediation is by clarifying the misunderstandings or calmly explaining each person’s interpretation of the conflict.

Encourage “I feel” talking points

When putting conflicts center stage, it’s important to demonstrate healthy communication. Have children focus on their own personal feelings, instead of what the other person is doing. Model conflict resolution by beginning with “I feel frustrated when…” This phrasing removes the tendency for people to place blame and find faults. “I feel” phrases also allow both parties to display vulnerability and practice empathy. Recognizing how and why someone feels a certain emotion opens the door for better understanding.

Facilitate collaboration on a common goal

Once students have calmly discussed the conflict or issue, encourage a working relationship amongst the students in the classroom. This does not mean that the two students will end up as “besties.” Strengthening a respectful working relationship teaches children several life lessons:

  • Students learn that cooperation is key when working with others.
  • Students learn to listen to one another in order to effectively collaborate.
  • Students see that others’ opinions are valuable—and sometimes more beneficial than their own.
  • Students begin to understand that problems are solved by communication and compromise.
  • When students share the weight and complete a task together, they unknowingly build trust and mutual respect in pairs or groups.

Conflict, while not encouraged, is inevitable. The earlier that children learn how to effectively communicate with others, the more success they will have in future collaborative efforts.  Conflict resolution can also be a very introspective process. Talking through an issue sheds light on one’s own personal biases, exposes alternate perspectives, and reveals our own “pet peeves” or “tipping points.” While conflict cannot be avoided, we must teach children how to productively utilize and learn from clashes with others.