Monday, 30 May 2011

Some musings on kids and self-esteem

Over the last few months I had the chance to talk to many teachers working at both public and private schools in Buenos Aires and I heard some recurring complaints: teaching at primary or secondary school is virtually impossible, real life has little to do with the setting we are trained to teach in, episodes of violence at school are commonplace and kids don’t seem to relate to their teachers or mates in any way. It is frequent to meet teachers who find themselves working as counsellors rather than teaching the subject matter of their expertise. This seems to be a widespread reality in Argentina, across the board in different social classes, types of school and regions.

One way of looking at this issue would be to come to terms with the idea that, in the 21st century, we are there to teach much more than subject matter, that –whether we like it or not– what we do with these kids everyday affects their lives enormously. We are not only language teachers; we have to prepare students to pass the tests of life.

This idea is not new. Different approaches to emotional education evolved from the insights developed in Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (1993) and Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (1995). These two books sparked unusual interest when they were written, as they provided a detailed picture of what many teachers started to see and perceive as a shortcome in traditional education systems.

I feel that many times, when dealing with this issue, we fail to ask a crucial question: why? (I’m going to use he here for the sake of practicity, no sexism intended).Why does a kid insult or beat a classmate? Why does he turn into the class bully? Why does he refuse to talk to the teacher? Why does he look withdrawn and absent in class? Why has he lost the will to learn, to investigate, to acquire new knowledge and experience?  

Probably because he doesn’t know or recognize his own emotions, or because he hasn’t been taught to feel empathy and respect for others, or because he hasn’t been taught to take responsability for his own behaviour. Mostly, I think, because he doesn’t have enough self-esteem to feel he deserves something GOOD.

The question of self-esteem in kids is doubly fascinating and challenging for me, because I’m a teacher as well as a mum. How can we help our kids build up their self-esteem? How can we contribute to their developing genuine, lasting self-confidence? These are questions I often ask myself and I must confess I’ve done some reading on the subject. I know this is a major topic and we can’t jump into any simple conclusions, but there are a couple of things that have stuck after my readings. How can we help them?

  • By stimulating their curiosity and encouraging them to try out different things
  • By trusting they will do things right and letting them try by themselves
  • By showing them how to talk about their feelings (by talking about ours!)
  • By having our senses ready to detect and encourage their natural talents
  • By praising them for their achievements
  • By helping them to face their fears
  • By letting them be the independent beings they are meant to be
  • By understanding that nothing good may come out of ill-treatment

I recently came across a very thought-provoking video on how to boost self-esteem in kids, which I’d like to share here. After watching it, I added a new item to my list: “by giving them as many poker chips as we possibly can”. Watch the video and you’ll see how!

See you soon!



  1. I love it !!!! Thumbs up! I'm gonna need some help I think with this thingy called "Blog" I've seen that you follow Lessonstream and Jeremy Harmer's blog !! How can I do that?

  2. Hi Fede! You need to enter the blog and look for the RSS feed (a little orange symbol, here it's between the Facebook and Twitter ones on the home page). Sometimes they have a "follow me" button.