The one person often hardest on us, is us! We don’t look a certain way, we aren’t good at certain things and the list goes on. We can find ourselves in situations that are stressful and we all cope with stress in different ways. One way is to be self-critical and sadly, our children can be very self-critical at an early age. As a teacher, one thing I need to do is to build up confidence and self-esteem in my students through various ways. If I know a student is struggling with something in the classroom or isn’t very confident, I need to step in and try and help them overcome that problem and those associated feelings.
When a child says, “I’m stupid, I can’t do this” or “I am never going to be able to finish this project,” is when I need to encourage and develop confidence in this child. I start by asking why they are feeling like that. Is it based on past experience, is it because they are comparing themselves to their peers, siblings or is it purely out of frustration? As a parent, it is important to talk your child through these self-critical moments and work with them. We all need to vent at times in order to regroup and focus. There are certainly going to be one- off times when this is all our children are doing. This is when it becomes a constant dialogue. Start by reminding your child what they can do and build from there. Let them know you are prepared to help them however you can and encourage a discussion with the classroom teacher. I know my daughter is very confident at school but at home is when we deal with the self-critical dialogue all based around her Maths! As her mum I find this very upsetting because she tortures herself about her ability and frustrating because I am a teacher and I should be able to step in and help her. Easier said than done. I was reminded one day as I attempted to help her, “You are my mum, not my teacher.” Ouch!
Some children can be surrounded by their peers who they see achieving their goals in and out of the classroom all of the time. Some children can begin to question their ability if they aren’t necessarily achieving their own goals and the self-critical dialogue begins. Being presented with a school project can be daunting to a child who believes they don’t have the skills to complete such a task. Breaking this down into simple achievable goals is the best way to help. Setting goals is a great way to develop a sense of achievement and increase self-confidence. Remember, when setting goals, make sure they are not too high. If they aren’t achieved you will not only have a disappointed child but it will be hard to motivate them to have another go. The flip side is, not to set goals too easy as they may feel they have too little to aim for. It would be very easy to step in and do the project or the home work tasks for our children without having to deal with the stresses of it all. But really, that only teaches our children that by avoiding overwhelming situations or talking in a self-critical way, they don’t have to face such situations which really is not going to be the case because there will always be another project!
As parents and teachers, we need to recognise when the self-critical dialogue is a constant in a child’s life and work together to empower them with the skills, knowledge and most importantly, the belief that they can achieve whatever goal or task has been set.