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Wednesday, April 17 2024
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Building self-esteem, confidence in children

Building Self Esteem, Confidence In Children
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Some writers leave lasting impressions on a person who reads their articles or books. Sometimes it is because of the philosophy of life that the writers may influence the reader with. Some other times, it is a combination of one or more of intellectual abilities, expressions of imagination or use of language. It is also possible that the most important lasting impression could come even from a story, a description, a narrative, an argument or a simple reference to an item of everyday living.

It is interesting to narrate a story. I must have read this in some book or article. I don’t remember the author or the name of the book. All the same, the story is worth retelling.

The scene of the story is an airport lobby.  A young boy of seven or eight sits comfortably on one of the seats and is immersed in drawing and colouring. There were a large number of people from different countries speaking in different languages, most of them crowding together near the boy, who moved briskly by his side without caring for the boy. The narrator noticed him, or rather noted him, for his concentration on his work amid the noise and movements and the composure the boy maintained despite the disturbances.

Whenever there was an announcement through the microphone, there were people who would collect their cabin bags and rush into the queues and move away with the single motive of boarding the aircraft. Even on such occasions, the boy was cool in his work and it was evident that he was also attentive to the announcements because, at one such announcement, he put his colour pencils and the sheets into his open shoulder bag and moved to the queue and boarded the plane. It so happened, that the narrator got the seat next to him. The boy said ‘hello’ to the co-passenger, opened his bag, pulled out his colour pencils and sheets and continued to concentrate on the drawing.

As the boy was fully immersed in the work, the writer wondered how a young child could be so dedicated to his work undisturbed. There had been several air-pocket jumps during which time too, the boy did not lose his concentration. He continued to do his drawing and colouring. At some point, his inquisitiveness compelled the narrator to ask the boy why he was not disturbed by anything around, especially the air-pocket jumps. The boy looked at him and answered with a sort of comfort in his words. He said that he was not afraid because his father was the pilot of the aircraft. The narrator records that he was immensely impressed by the boy’s answer.

There are a few questions that are to be asked to give relevance to the story that is given above. The questions are to the adults.

Do you think in a given difficult situation, your child would give such an answer? Do your young children have the necessary faith in you to believe that they will get the solutions to their problems from or through you? Do your children believe that you are there and therefore, they don’t have to be worried? Do you think you are the centre of confidence of the children when they get confronted by others for small faults that the children do? Do your children keep you as a consultant at the time of their difficult needs? Have you taught your young ones to rely on you when she or he is in distress and is unable to support oneself?

Children’s confidence in a parent may be better understood from a statement of the daughter of a former student, late Sankaran Nampoothiri, the then MD of Brahma Softek. Sankaran was also the Trustee of our institution for almost two decades, till his sad death. While at Chennai, an invitation was extended to him to join me at the hotel where I was put up. He happily brought his family along. In a casual conversation, his wife referred to the snoring that Sankaran used to do and how anybody could be disturbed, she wasn’t complaining about herself as she stated that she had got used to it. All the same, she had the disapproval of it for other’s sake. It was then his daughter broke her silence and said, “I get disturbed when I don’t hear daddy’s snore because that sound assures me that daddy is there to look after me.” A different reason which gives confidence to children.

Children’s confidence in the adult world around them, especially their parents, is a product of cultivated belief systems. The best of these belief systems emerge out of the experience of the child when it feels that it is being supported, guided or defended when it is in difficulties. The fact that a parent has come to their rescue, may even be a minor fall in the courtyard, which creates confidence in a young child. This confidence is promoted by the type of assurance that the parents provide the latter that they will be there when a child needs them. Such confidence keeps building in the child as it grows until a time when it will be of its own. Even at such times when the child may feel that it can do or fend for itself, even small support from a parent is bound to enhance the quality of confidence.

It is interesting to analyse the development of confidence in any child. The base for the confidence of the child is in its self-esteem. Social scientists and psychologists say that there are three types of self-esteem; low self-esteem, high self-esteem and strong self-esteem. While low self-esteem is a status where one thinks very low about oneself, and therefore, does not function productively or successfully, high self-esteem is a status where one thinks that one is capable of performing anything which is not real at all. Strong self-esteem is vastly different from the first two and with it a person is well aware of her or his competencies or abilities and decides to function accordingly. Strong self-esteem also allows people to seek necessary support or help from others without losing one’s own self-respect.

It will be interesting to quote the results of an Action Research project that our institution did almost a quarter-century ago. Through an advertisement, a batch of hundred students from primary schools and high schools were identified. They were admitted for a learning and development intervention for ten days and were housed at St. Victor’s School in Puttur. It was residential and they worked in different batches during different sessions. Professors Jagadisha from Vijaya College, Mulki, Ananthapadmanabha Rao from SVS College, Bantwal, Sripathi Rao from St. Aloysius College, Mr Nandagopal, a journalist and Ms. Jayalakshmi from one of the schools in Puttur were the resource persons for the five batches of twenty students each. The unusual condition for admission for students for this intervention was that the student should have failed in all subjects in the previous examinations. Students were admitted from different schools in South Kanara.

This Action Research was on building the self-esteem of the students with special emphasis on creating opportunities for children to become effective and successful without any punishment, if or when they fail. The major strategy of the intervention was to learn how to enhance the self-esteem of students through direct interventions in which they would continually succeed. Students were provided with plenty of physical as well as intellectual games, providing opportunities for them to succeed rather than fail. After the interventions, the students were sent back to their own schools with an undertaking from them that they would not tell the teachers about the intervention that they had attended. Suffice it to say that forty-five of these students passed in all subjects and the rest in many subjects in the ensued examinations even though no subject or language teaching was done during the ten-day intervention.  Some of those who had earlier not passed in all the subjects were now able to pass in a greater number of subjects. The number of subjects not cleared was just one or two, that too with a difference of one or two marks.

An interesting event from one of the classes about two students is worth bringing up here. These two students who were about ten years old each would fail in every game that they were offered. They would silently go and sit down somewhere, after their failures, and show no interest in the games that were offered again. The professors and other resource persons noticed these two children and decided to give them a chance to succeed. They observed them and discovered that both the children were good at whistling. They could put their fingers under their tongue and whistle away happily. So, the resource person in charge of their batch organised a whistling competition, one of the boys became first and the other second. The resource persons reported later that was the day when those children smiled happily while other children glorified these children’s success.

The story doesn’t end there. The professors had stuck brown papers on the walls of classrooms and allowed students to write or draw anything that they would think of or imagine. It was the two children who were first and second in whistling competition, who drew very satisfactory pictures which they had done on the brown sheets. On enquiry, it was found that they had never drawn any picture in their whole schooling career or in the days before their whistling competition in which they won first and second places. The confidence that the resource persons provided them through the whistling competition where they were successful gave them the confidence to draw pictures on the brown wallpapers.

There are many other stories as well which resource persons of our institution had reported proving that what children need is building confidence in them. Parents and teachers are those who can build this confidence in young children. What is necessary is to believe that self-esteem has not only to be built in the young children but also has to be protected so that children will build their confidence. Also, what children need when they make mistakes or lapses is not punishments; instead, it is guidance and support from the adult world to try again without loss of confidence while they may fail.

I happened to see a photograph of a father and daughter; they are from a known family. Here, it will be worthwhile to make an analysis of the two personalities in that picture, the man and the child. The picture shows a young father lying down supine on green grass with a three or four-year-old daughter sitting on his stomach. She is supported by his bent legs as she leans back. She has her shoes on, one of which is resting on his folded palm which is on his stomach. The other leg of the girl is kept crossed on her left knee. It indeed is a classic pose. Both looked pleased about themselves. We need to concentrate more on the child though the immediate response will be that the father has to be admired more for allowing the child to even keep her shoes on the back of his palm and deposit herself on his stomach, an act and posture which are not so very easy for the man. However, it is more important to concentrate on the child. She is pleased with herself and gives an uncommon posture. She has worn her shoes and kept her right one on the father’s stomach. She has crossed her leg and is leaning back in great comfort. She is not concentrating on the father; instead, she is concentrating on something else outside. She is at ease.  If the reader is a parent, ask yourself. Will you allow your little girl to sit with a classic pose like that? Will you provide confidence to your child to sit on your stomach, especially with her shoes on? Will you allow your child to exhibit her strong self-esteem which borders on the faith that her father is the greatest support for her, and be confident that she can sit comfortably and look at the world?

The best contribution that parents and teachers can offer growing children is building their self-esteem and associated confidence. Its impact may not be noticed immediately, it is the store for the future. The more the store, the better it is.

Image credits iseeme

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Prof Sunney Tharappan

Prof. Sunney Tharappan is Director of College for Leadership and HRD, Mangaluru. He trains and writes and lives in Mangaluru.

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