Boosting Your Child’s Self Esteem About School: Interview with Therapist Ben Taussig

Does your child appear to have low self esteem when it comes to school? Are you unsure on how to go about in boosting your child’s self esteem about school? To help understand what often has a negative impact on a child’s self esteem about school and how you can boost your child’s self esteem about school, I have interviewed therapist Ben Taussig.

Tell me a little bit about yourself:
“I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor in a private practice that I co-own with two great partners. I received my Masters in Counseling from MidAmerica Nazarene University, with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy. I also counsel MidAmerica students through their campus counseling department part time.”

What often has a negative impact on a child’s self esteem about school?
“School (or in many cases daycare or preschool) is often the scene where insecurity makes its first major appearance in our lives. For the first time maybe ever we’re separated from our caregivers, put into large groups, analyzed, observed, and given feedback about who we are and if we measure up. You could call it our first ‘real world’ experience.

Generally speaking, the real world can be a pretty scary place. What if I don’t feel like I measure up? What if I’m not accepted into the group? What if people don’t like me? What if they’re mean to me? Questions about our place, our value, and our worth burst onto the scene with an often consuming force.

These questions are exacerbated in a powerful way when we do not like the answers we find. Kids are mean to me. My performance doesn’t measure up to those around me. I can’t run as fast, read as fast, pay attention as long, remember expectations as consistently, or even dress like everybody else. I’ve stepped out into the world and it doesn’t seem to be very glad that I have. These questions lead to feelings of disconnection, isolation, fear, and shame: in a word, insecurity.

Asking these questions is a natural part of integrating into a group and becoming a part of society, and they generally come with a degree of natural insecurity. That normal nagging sense of insecurity can grow into something with a life all its own; something problematic that feeds itself.”

What are some parent tips for increasing their child’s self esteem about school?
“Security (and insecurity for that matter) generally develops in the home. The degree of power and impact those scary questions have on students is greatly influenced by the relationships they have with their primary care givers. A child that feels safe and secure with the people that matter the most to him will typically be less affected by insecure experiences with others.

This is a fundamental principle of attachment theory. Our children derive a great deal of their sense of self and understanding of how the world works directly from their relationship with us. A child who has attached and bonded securely with her parent learns something very clear about herself and about the world. She learns that when things get scary the important people in her life will comfort her, protect her, and won’t think any less of her for her needs. She is worth protecting. She has value. And the world seems to know it.

A child whose bond develops insecurely walks into her first day of school not knowing whether anyone will comfort her when she begins to feel fear. She does not know if she will be protected. Perhaps scariest of all, she fears that expressing this rising need for comfort and safety will be met with rejection. She is left to conclude that in a world where her deepest needs are rejected, either she is bad or the world is (or both).

The best way to help our children feel secure when they are away from us is to help them feel secure when they are with us. By doing so, we literally grow in them a sense of safety, of belonging, of value, of comfort, and of peace. What grows in the child transcends temporary mood or emotion: we grow the child himself.

There are some specific and simple things we can do to help facilitate this, especially as it relates to a child feeling insecure about school. First of all, listen to your child. I don’t mean simply let them talk to you, but hear your child. We parents often have a surprisingly difficult time with this. What is your child feeling? Can you empathize with that feeling? When you feel this way, how do you want people to respond to you?

Parents who struggle to do this well will often find themselves being exaggerated to: ‘everyone at school hates me,’ or ‘I’m the worst kid at math ever!’ Remember that your child is far less interested in communicating the accuracy of her experience than the weight of it. She is trying to communicate how it feels, not necessarily how it is.

The reason for this is that your insecure child is expressing her feelings so that you will comfort her. It feels like you just wouldn’t ‘get it’ if she told you that really there are only these three girls that pick on her and another group that laughs while they do. So she tells you that everyone in the whole school hates her, and the truth is, it feels like they do.

Which brings up the second thing parents can do to increase their children’s self esteem at school: comfort rather than try to fix. Many parents respond to the child in the above example by saying things like, ‘now how could the whole school hate you? Annie came over to play just yesterday!’ Comments like ‘who cares if you’re the slowest kid in kickball? Some kids can’t walk at all’ only show your child that you do not understand (or care about) his pain and that he is somehow bad for feeling the way he feels.

This contributes directly to insecurity. In reality, being slow at kickball isn’t the scariest thing in your son’s world. Being slow and having nobody care, or worse, people who think he’s stupid for hurting, is far more painful. We can handle bad grades on math tests and mean kids in the lunchroom when we know there are people who will comfort us, weather the storms with us, and never stop loving us. It’s when we have to face these fears without the protection and security of these safe people that our insecurities become overwhelming. The storms of life are scary. Storms without shelter are terrifying.

Be the safe place for your child that she craves. This will not make her soft or weak or overly needy. It will show her that she is worth protecting, that her needs matter, that she has value, and that when things get scary, she has a place to run for shelter.”

What type of professional help is available for a child that needs a boost in their self esteem in regards to school?
“Of course these principles are generalities. The world of any child comes with all kinds of complications and additional factors to consider. These basic principles of parenting may be helpful in a broad sense, but they probably seem maddeningly oversimplified for many parents. When a child seems to be struggling with self-esteem in an intrusive, disruptive, consuming sort of a way, more direct measures may need to be taken.

It may be that the child’s insecurity can be addressed directly. Often children experience acute insecurity at school for very concrete and fixable reasons. For example, a child falling behind in school may simply need glasses or medication to treat ADHD. Parents should feel more than comfortable mentioning falling academic performance to their child’s pediatrician. This does not mean the parent is necessarily asking for meds or for the doctor to shell out a quick fix for her child’s grades. It is simply good information for the pediatrician to have and may lead to direct improvement in the child’s academic functioning.

Other children may benefit from spending time with a professional counselor or therapist. A good therapist will hear the child’s needs beneath what the child actually says and respond accordingly. For younger children, a play therapist can be a great fit. While all therapists should allow children to show their needs in a safe environment, play therapists allow the child to fully express themselves without being rejected or shamed for what comes out. This directly combats insecurity.

Lastly, parents should feel comfortable leaning on the resources provided through their children’s school. Talk with teachers about academic performance. Ask about ADD and ADHD. Talk about your child’s social interactions and his ability to connect with others. An open and honest relationship with a child’s teachers and school administrators can be invaluable.”

Thank you Ben for doing the interview on parent tips for boosting their child’s self esteem about school. For more information on Ben Taussig or his work you can check out his website on www.securecounselingclinic.com.

Recommended Readings:
Improving Self Esteem
7 Keys to Successful Parenting
Is Stress Keeping You Awake at Night