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Phoenix Forward magazine

5 ways teachers can build self-esteem in kids

Self-esteem in kids

Just because a teacher is great at instructing kids in reading, writing and arithmetic doesn’t mean the teaching job is done.

Grade-school teachers play a huge role in building children’s self-esteem, explains Connie Lorthridge, assistant dean for the University of Phoenix College of Education and an instructor in the elementary education program.

“Teaching kids to have healthy self-esteem in school is critical because it’s been shown to lead children to being successful in their careers and making healthy choices later in life,” says Lorthridge, who worked in public education for 36 years as a teacher and administrator.

Here are five things teachers can do to help build students’ confidence:

Establish a positive atmosphere.

The attitude a teacher displays in class and the tone used when talking to students, Lorthridge says, help lay the foundation for how kids view themselves.

How a teacher communicates rules, for example, can help children learn to respect one another. There’s a difference, she notes, between saying “Do not interrupt” and “In our classroom, we respect everyone by raising hands before we speak.”

If a teacher often expresses frustration, students likely will feel less positive about their abilities to learn, she adds, and they might act out or stop paying attention.

Set realistic expectations.

Teachers should tailor what they expect to the level of each student’s ability. “Knowing each child and creating situations where the child can’t fail,” Lorthridge says, “will help create opportunities for children to build on their success.”

If a student is struggling to behave well, for example, a teacher might emphasize what that child does well, instead of dwelling on the bad behavior. The teacher could say, “Today, Billy was able to sit quietly during the first 20 minutes of the morning,” Lorthridge adds.

Applaud the activity, not the child.

“Praising students is important, because it helps to build a child’s awareness of themselves as competent,” Lorthridge says, “but teachers should make the praise specific to an activity and not about the child.” Students will learn that their self-worth is measured by what they do, she says, not by who they are, which will encourage a cooperative environment.

Instead of saying, “I’m so proud of you today,” Lorthridge notes, a teacher could say, “I noticed in math you selected the Cuisenaire rods to help solve the problem. That’s a great strategy.”

Create cooperative learning situations.

Group work will help students learn how to foster positive relationships, Lorthridge says.

“When kids work cooperatively, a child who is stronger in one area will often help another child be successful as the team works together to achieve a goal,” Lorthridge points out. “So a child who normally struggles can get a big confidence boost by having others support and cheer them on.”


Use mistakes as learning opportunities.

One aspect of healthy self-esteem is taking risks, Lorthridge explains. Teachers can help kids do this by ensuring they understand that they can learn from mistakes.

A teacher who encourages students to participate, even when they might be wrong, will help them become more comfortable, Lorthridge says, adding that a teacher can highlight a wrong answer as a learning opportunity. “It’s important,” she says, “for kids to feel that no one is going to make fun of them if they are wrong.”