The self-esteem Willie gained all summer might be on the line as first grade moves close.
A brand new teacher, tougher academic demands and new classmates can all assault his self-image.
But Willie is not the first one to face this.
Teacher says: “Punch up self-esteem! Get in Willie’s comer and help him with the following pointers.”
From The Inside Out
Cultivate the imagination when kids face challenges.
Don’t limit them to what’s realistic and achievable.
Help them dream.
World Wide Web designer and publisher Nancy Pendelton Brown advises parents to “dream with your kids, no matter how many times they change their minds!”
Listen to how kids talk to themselves
Since you can’t crawl inside their heads, listen to younger kids’ conversations with stuffed animals or imaginary friends, and older kids’ conversations with themselves, when they think you aren’t listening.
The way they talk to themselves is a measure of how they see themselves.
Stepping into a child’s personal dialogue cautiously and lovingly allows a parent or teacher to change misinformation into factual thinking and maybe, clear the path for hope.
Teach them to reflect
First silently, then with you, have kids look inside themselves and explore their feelings, accomplishments, and areas that need attention.
A Colorado fifth grade teacher has his students keep a journal called, “Reflections.”
“They think back over the day or the week and self-select what was important to them, areas in which they could sense a change,” he explains.
From The Outside In
Listen to how kids talk to you
When first grader, Willie, laments, “I’m going to have Mrs. Yulhaftadoitover for reading class for the rest of my life!”
Coach him to say, “I’ll have a new teacher every year.”
Psychologist Martin Seligman, the author of The Optimistic Child, (Houghton-Mifflin), believes that helping kids realize that most challenges don’t last forever is the first step toward changing from a pessimistic to an optimistic style.
Listen to how you talk to them
Never underestimate Willie’s power to smell-out false flattery.
Instead of praising him for being a great reader when he knows better, praise him for knowing his letter sounds or being able to read all the names of the colors.
Praising small steps makes Willie aware that most success is a building process.
Get right to the bottom line
With economy of words and a warm delivery, get to the point when discussing values, issues and challenges with kids.
Good communication between kids and their parents and teachers is built on exchanges that are open, clear, honest and mercifully brief.
Ever wonder why kids won’t do something the first five times you ask, but will do it the sixth?
Because by then you’ve made it terrifically clear.
Focus on the behavior you want and communicate it clearly coaches psychologist Michael Valentine in Solve Your Child’s School-Related Social Problems (Harper Collins).
For example, “Sit in your seat, do these math problems neatly and correctly.
You have 15 minutes.
Start right now and don’t do anything else until they are finished.”
Don’t ignore it
“Ignoring inappropriate behavior sends a message to your child that you silently condone his behavior and don’t mind if he keeps on acting inappropriately,” says Valentine.
Cross your heart
Making promises between parents and kids, and kids and their teachers “builds bridges of trust between you and your child,” writes Stephen R. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, (Simon & Schuster).
Promises “establish inner integrity that gives awareness of self-control and the courage to accept more responsibility,” he adds.
Making promises realistic makes them easier to keep.
Give them options for success
“Build levels of participation into every lesson,” says Ann Richards of The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts.
Artist/teachers “accept four types of responses from the pre-schoolers in our program,” she adds.
Students can answer by giving verbal answers, filling in the blanks when prompted, repeating after the instructor, or reproducing a gesture from the presentation they watched.
“Kids can have success despite their readiness levels.”
Self-esteem is a fragile, delicate thing especially for first graders like Willie.
When coached with patient, loving intervention by patents and teachers, kids’ self-esteem can bound out of the comer so powerfully it can propel them straight into successful adulthood.
Evelyn Vuko is a veteran school teacher and administrator. She writes a monthly column in the Washington Post called “Teacher Says.”