Sometimes I think we are all on self-esteem overload from the politically correct era of “everyone gets a trophy,” and for some, just the mention of this word starts eyes rolling to the back of the head. I must admit, I am an eye-roller when this subject comes up and possibly my eyes even glaze over during a discussion about self-esteem. Mostly because we all have a story – a unique perspective that helps clarify our position. Here’s my story.
I didn’t always roll my eyes at the thought of getting a trophy for participating and giving my best, however, I remember long ago when I was in competitive baton twirling (yes, it was loooong ago), I didn’t often win first place. I’m a competitive sort but a bit of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none kind of person so coming in first place didn’t happen very often for me (Who am I kidding here? Actually it never happened). In these competitions, the first place prize was a trophy and the other awards were medals. Don’t get me wrong, I treasured all my medals but I certainly yearned for a trophy. After several years of competition, I still hadn’t won a trophy and I was REEEAALLLLY wanting to come in first at something! Well, it finally happened. I heard my name over the loudspeaker and was beckoned to the judges table. I was handed a large sparkly green trophy with a golden majorette on top. I was thrilled to receive my award until they told me what it was for. I had been given the trophy because I was the first to send in my entry form for the competition!
I was instantly deflated and scuttled back to my seat. A trophy without a true accomplishment meant nothing to me. I wanted to earn a trophy for a job well done, not because of a PR stunt to get other twirly girls to send in their entry checks faster. That was the moment I became an eye-roller for the everybody gets an award movement, too. Self-esteem has to come from the knowledge that you have accomplished something and it comes from the notion that others accept and recognize that accomplishment, too.
Self-esteem is the feeling of having personal worth. It can be enhanced by others but ultimately has to come from within. It is extremely critical for highly gifted individuals to recognize the importance of self-esteem and to begin to see the societal roadblocks that hinder a gifted person’s feelings of self-worth and value. For example, when you are at the end of the bell curve intellectually you have few peers to validate your behavior and intellect. And to make matters worse, gifted kids are often encouraged to fit in with the average in order to get along better. We encourage them to become something that they are not. The message? We don’t value who you are.
My suggestions for enhancing self-esteem in gifted students range from the practical to the lofty and from the miniscule to the extreme. Do any that you can and feel free to add to my list.
- Smile and listen to your child. We all respond to acceptance of our thoughts and ideas. Consider what your child is saying and find ways to follow-up on ideas and thoughts.
- If your child is competitive, find age and ability appropriate opportunities for your child to compete. Try to find true and worthy competition. You don’t want to set your child up for having a false sense of esteem from conquering a paper tiger. Then, help your child prepare or practice. Many gifted children don’t know how to study or work for a goal. Mostly everything they try to do is accomplished without effort, so studying and preparing for a goal may seem foreign to your child.
- Practice appropriate socials skills. Confidence grows from knowing what to do in many social settings. Role-play at home and practice in public!
- Praise effort not result. We don’t always win but we can learn from the process as well as the product.
- Travel and experience different cultures. Build and develop schema.
- Give meaningful choices to your child. Having good decision-making skills helps a student realize they have an internal locus of control.
- Seek out opportunities for your child to experience being a leader as well as a follower. Both are important roles to be able to fulfill successfully.
- Find ways to allow your child to interact with his or her intellectual peers. This cannot be emphasized enough. Special camps, classes, and excursions may be expensive but are a great source of intellectual and social growth for your child.
- Volunteer in a variety of settings. Helping others builds your own self-worth.
- Ask your child! What does he or she want to accomplish? What makes your child feel good about herself? You might be surprised what enhances your child’s self-esteem and you don’t even know it!
We need our gifted students to be confident and competent in order to fulfill their academic potential. As teachers and parents we cannot neglect this important area of growth and development. We want our bright children to have the confidence to pursue their dreams but they won’t be able to do this if they lack a foundation of positive self-esteem.