A guest article from Chris, publisher of TeachingWoodwork.com
When the children in your class look in the mirror, do you think they like what they see?
What do they think about the world around them?
Do they think they are loved and valued or do they feel judged and inadequate?
It is normal for a youngster to lack confidence at times. However, if a child persistently struggles with feelings of worthlessness and incompetence, then there is a huge problem. They could be dealing with low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem is debilitating to young people. It makes them have a negative image of themselves that is completely removed from reality. They harbor harsh opinions and beliefs about themselves that when they persist long enough, cripple their lives.
Low self-esteem eats away at a child’s happiness. It creates fear and expects failure. Indeed, it can be physically, emotionally and psychologically debilitating.
While some signs of low self-esteem are easy to sport, others could be a bit obscure. However, the language that the youngster uses could be the clearest indication that they are suffering from low self-esteem.
Examples of Things young People say when suffering Low Self-esteem
‘I don’t deserve it.’ ‘I am not worth it.’ ‘I am stupid.’
Shame is a constant small voice at the back of the mind of a child who is dealing with low self-esteem. Shame makes them feel that they are:
- Not worthy.
- Not smart enough
- Not slim enough
- Not good looking enough
- Not rich enough
- Not enough!
Shame induces the feeling of worthlessness in young people and crushes their self-esteem because they judge themselves by impossible standards.
‘I am such a loser.’ ‘I always knew I couldn’t do this.’ ‘This is so hopeless.’ ‘I do everything wrong.’ ‘I will never learn.’
Young people with low self-esteem are pessimists at heart. They only see hopelessness, and they are overly critical of themselves. Even before they try something, they already know that they cannot do it. Pessimism will make any young adult perceive a negative outcome when you and pretty much everyone else see it much differently.
Because of low self-esteem, you may also find they constantly make fun of themselves and uses derogatory words when talking about themselves. This is because they believe that other people constantly think about their shortcomings all the time. Hence, they feel it is better to make fun of these drawbacks themselves before the people around them bring them up.
Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.
A young person with low self-esteem will apologize for everything. They will almost apologize for breathing. They are always saying sorry. They will apologize for small things, for big things, and for things that are not even remotely their fault.
Someone bumps into them on the street, and they apologize; they sneeze, and they apologize; they don’t have a pen when you request for one, and they apologize…
They genuinely feel that everything that goes wrong is their fault. This is because they have a biased view of themselves. They are entirely unaware of their worth; as such, they only see their shortcomings and not their gifts and talents.
Low self-esteem also makes people believe that it is their responsibility to keep everyone else happy, hence the reason they keep apologizing. Apologizing continually is a way for young people with esteem issues to buy acceptance from the people around them. They fear that if they fail to apologize, other people will think negatively of them.
‘It’s not a big deal.’ ‘I was just lucky.’ ‘It’s God’s blessing.’ ‘I don’t know how it happened.’
Every child at least some point will work their tails off to achieve something:
They will not take credit for it, accept praise or compliments. This is a clear sign of low self-esteem. The child has such low self-esteem that the idea that they have achieved something positive, or that they have portrayed a unique skill is unfathomable. It simply doesn’t gel with their negative self-image.
Young people that are grappling with low self-esteem don’t handle compliments well. They will say that they were just lucky or that they were only in the right place at the right time. Indeed, they will believe it. They have, unfortunately, blown their failures out of proportion so much so that it is deeply ingrained in their identity.
How do the students in your class react to your compliments? Are they proud, pleased and accepting of your praise or do they look uncomfortable and try to dismiss what you say? Do they deflect praise? Do they believe that they deserve to be acknowledged for their achievements?
A well balanced young adult might show modesty when they receive compliments, but if you realize that they genuinely distrust every compliment they are given, a deeper problem is at play.
‘It just happened.’ ‘I just ……’ ‘I only …’
Are there any young people in your classes that are defensive to a fault, believing everyone is out to get them? The moment they hear a ‘no,’ or a ‘but,’ they clam up. A young adult with low self-esteem finds it very hard to hear anything that they perceive as criticism because it reinforces their low opinions of themselves. They are touchy and take even light-hearted conversations to heart. They will strive to defend themselves even when the situation does not call for it.
Low self-esteem makes people hyper-vigilant that they will interpret any phrase, even a compliment, as a reproach. They will immediately begin to make excuses or explain themselves. Unfortunately, they will never grow if they do not learn how to accept constructive criticism.
If you notice that the young adult’s defensiveness is unhealthy, you need to have a discussion with them about criticism. Let them also have the right perspective: that some criticism is well intended to help them improve, while other types of criticism simply reflect poorly on the critic and they are best ignored.
‘Probably.’ ‘Most likely.’ ‘I may be right, but I am not sure.’ ‘I don’t know what to choose ….’ ‘Maybe …’
A child with low self-esteem finds it very difficult to make decisions. For them, it is more convenient to follow other people’s leadership. They find it challenging to speak for themselves or give their opinions. They also continuously question themselves.
Indeed, they would rather not have to make any decision about anything; at all. If they have to make a decision, they stress about it tirelessly, questioning and doubting themselves all the way. They also have a great fear of being wrong; so they instead use uncertain terms to ‘protect’ themselves.
‘I thought differently, but I agree ……’ ‘Everyone thinks so…’ All these phrases indicate someone who fears to express their personal opinion. They would rather agree with the views of a less incompetent person than risk expressing theirs.
They never argue!
Unfortunately, these young adults will never have an identity since only informed personal opinions make one a personality.
We cannot downplay the importance of high self-esteem for young people: having a good sense of self-esteem helps them to try new things, solve problems, take healthy risks and form meaningful relationships.
Our role in all of this
We cannot overemphasize the role of teachers in the formation of healthy self-esteem. Right from when the children are small, making them feel safe, valued and accepted makes them believe in themselves.
As they grow older, as teachers (and parents) keep encouraging them to try new things and utilize their skills, their self-esteem soars. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, self-esteem may come more easily to some children than others. The good news is that even if a particular young person’s self-esteem is low, it can be remedied: with your help.
The problem-solving process starts with identifying the cause of low self-esteem. Once you have determined the cause, rectifying the situation is the easier (and even fun) part.
Christopher teaches woodwork at the high school level and also runs the website TeachingWoodwork.com. He is passionate about helping the people (parents and teachers) around young people. You can see his latest projects and how he builds self-esteem in young people on his website.