Self-esteem and self-efficacy are constantly worked on during a child’s education. Within the classroom, social modeling is one of the strongest influences on self-efficacy. When a child can see other students working hard to complete a task and accomplish a task, it is reinforcing that through hard work they can as well. This increases their belief in themselves and creates a higher likelihood of beginning new tasks with this sense of confidence. To continue this modeling while we remain socially distant, try modeling your own hard work. Let your child see that you are working from time to time and explain when appropriate that though your work is not always easy, you feel a sense of pride when you accomplish goals set within your company.
Another important factor that parents may struggle with opposed to teachers in a traditional setting, is remaining honest with your child. A teacher can be more objective when educating your child and as parents we sometimes struggle separating that your child’s failures are not a direct extension of yourself! If a child does not succeed in completing something, do not disregard the failure entirely. Notice this moment, acknowledge the failure and make suggestions to improve their likelihood of success next time. It may feel better to just brush off the failure in the moment, but this is ultimately doing a disservice to your child.
Social persuasion may also be experienced less while your child is learning from home. This is the concept that through specific praise and verbal encouragement, they will begin to believe they have the skills to succeed. These words of encouragement become your child’s inner dialogue and largely shapes their modality of thinking. Although you may be feeling overwhelmed during this time, try and offer words of encouragement when you child accomplishes tasks. Identify the effort they put into the assignment and reassure them that they have given their best effort and that is to be celebrated.
Mastery experiences tie into the foundation of our education system. These are assignments that are ‘just right’ in terms of learning ability for your child’s age. Your child should feel this sense of confidence because these tasks strengthen their sense of self-efficacy. If your child struggles with Math specifically, but excels in English, try breaking up their assignments. If they spend the entire afternoon struggling with Math homework, they may begin to become discouraged. Breaking this up with tasks they struggle and excel in is one of the beauties of at home learning. YOU can help choose the order in which they learn. Suggest a break from the math assignment and try brainstorming that English essay for half an hour and then return to it.
Although you can break up the subjects your child struggles with, you cannot avoid them entirely. When presented with more challenging tasks, your child may begin to express negative thoughts with you. Challenge these thoughts in calm and supportive tone. If they say ‘I will never be good at math, I don’t understand it’. Respond factually, “You may not be the best at math, but look at how much you have progressed, last year you did not know division at all, now you are doing long division!” Use evidence to support your claims but remember do not dismiss the negativity entirely. By simply disregarding the negative thinking, you pose the risk of your child not disclosing insecurities or doubts with you entirely. This opens up a healthy dialogue between the two of you to disclose things they have deemed as ‘failures’ and creates an opportunity for you both to work together to share suggestions.
With this extended time we are all spending at home, it may also seem like the best way to develop self-esteem is through overwhelming praise. When else have you had the opportunity to cheer your child on throughout their entire school day? Though this may come from a good place as a loving parent, realize you need to take a step back. Let your child take risks and make their own choices. Your child will have a higher sense of pride and enjoy sharing their accomplishment from you. Supported independence is the goal with these tips, your child feels supported but you are not ‘doing’ the work for them. If you continue to over-praise your child, you may be doing more harm than good by setting the bar too low.
Recognizing these moments as teachable for your child is something you can take away from this quarantine experience and continue when life returns to normal. We frequently forget how much teachers and their peers help shape our children’s inner voice and we can continue cultivating this within our own home and makeshift classrooms. Most importantly, try to enjoy this time with your children, remember they are impressionable and remain supportive for them.