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Self-Esteem Grows When Kids Feel They Belong

Apr 4, 2008
Want to boost children's self-esteem? Include them; really make them part of the family. Make them feel important, because they are important. But, don't stop there; help them become part of the school and local communities as well.

BELONGING TO THE FAMILY

Here is an example of how a young lady with significant physical disabilities and learning disabilities was made to feel like a queen, just because she was an important part of her extended family.

"I'm so excited! Sunday is my birthday. So Mommy and Daddy are taking me to the mall Saturday and we're going to eat there and then go to the movies. Jessica and Amanda are going, too. They're my two best friends. Steven is taking a friend, too, because otherwise he'd bother us. Then Sunday, Grandma Angela, Grandpa Peter, Grandma Pearl and Papa, Aunt Theresa and Uncle Joe, Aunt Susan, and all my cousins are coming over for dinner. We're gonna have a barbecue and ice cream cake. Then, on Monday, Mommy's gonna bring cupcakes to my class. I just can't wait!"

Mary Beth was a fourth grader who clearly had some physical disabilities and learning disabilities that required her to work harder than most of her classmates in order to learn new material, catch a ball, or ride a bike. Yet she didn't seem to have any emotional problems as a result of her disabilities. In fact, she was quite proud of who she was.

Mary Beth was fortunate to have parents who were not only loving, but also extremely supportive. In addition, she had the luxury of a supportive extended family. She was an integral part of her family, which helped her get through her school and social experiences with fewer scars than would a child whose need to belong was not being met at home. On the occasions when she did well in school, she shared her excitement not only with Mommy and Daddy, but also with Grandma Angela, Grandpa Peter, Grandma Pearl and Papa. When she went on a class trip, Aunt Theresa traded stories with her about her own trip to the same place. Because he was a math teacher, Uncle Joe helped her with her math homework. Because her parents worked every other weekend, Aunt Susan took Mary Beth and her cousins to the library on Saturdays. If she succeeded, they were there to celebrate with her. If she failed, they were there to console and support her. And she was there for them. When Papa had an operation, she called him and read him stories over the phone. Mary Beth was a lucky child, a full-fledged member of a loving and supporting family.

Belonging to a family is an important factor in a child's development, whether he is an only child or one of eight. But even an only child may feel left out of decision-making and other family dynamics. He might be in day care during the mornings, with a babysitter in the afternoons, rushed through dinner in the evening and put to bed at night, without ever getting the sense that he is an important part of the family. In effect, his family might be happening around him. When he becomes a teenager, this child may be a "loner," or may turn to his peers for acceptance and love, because at home he has never felt this critical sense of belonging.

Tips on How to Help Your Child Feel a Sense of Belonging in Your Family

1. Work -- and play -- together. Some chores provide a great opportunity to involve your child. If you make the experience a pleasant one, and he knows that he will be able to take play breaks, he may enjoy the experience and prove to be a good helper. Then, after the chores are done, consider a fun activity together.

2. Build a sense of familial pride by supporting one another. Allow your child to be your cheerleader once in a while to show her that you are strengthened by her support -- when, for example, you are taking on an important project at work or beginning a new exercise program. Moreover, let her know as well that her sibling(s) needs her support and encouragement too. She will feel more important as a result.

3. Encourage all family members to be proud of themselves. Show your child that you support what makes each family member unique, and that each person makes a valuable contribution to the family in his or her own way. One parent might not have regular out-of-the-house job, but is contributing emotionally and educationally, if not financially, to the family. A child might be tone-deaf but has a wonderful sense of humor. Each one should know that the others are valued for what he brings to the family unit.

4. Teach your child how to be a group member. Being members of groups does not come naturally to most children; it is not easy for them to compromise their personal desires for the general good. As a member of one group -- your family -- your child needs to learn to follow the rules established by and for the group.

5. Plan a party or do something special for another member of the family. Kids love to be included in the planning of a special event. Your child could help you make breakfast-in-bed for someone, then carry it in himself; he can plan a birthday party for his brother or sister, right down to mailing the invitations, shopping for snacks, and baking the cake; or he can surprise family members by cleaning their rooms for them or by making their lunches.

BELONGING TO THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY:

Many children do not feel as if they are part of their school community, which makes learning that much more difficult. They are so uncomfortable, and feel so poorly about themselves in that setting, that they have difficulty concentrating, seeking help, joining clubs, and attending after-school events.

School personnel will work to foster a sense of community at your child's school, but parents can help as well. If you see your child isn't involved in the school community, here are some suggestions.

Tips on How to Help Your Child Become Part of the School Community

1. Encourage your child to join one or more after school activities. If none exist in an area in which he is interested, encourage him to start one with one or more of his friends and a teacher to serve as an advisor. Possible examples include: math club, paper recycling club, video game club.

2. Encourage your child to join a sport. Consider team or individual types of sports.

3. Encourage your child to participate in the drama club. There are acting as well as non-acting roles (scenery, lighting, and special effects).

4. If your child is already in the school band, encourage him to join one of the other bands, such as: marching, show, jazz, or dance. If these don't exist, consider starting one at school.

5. Consider getting involved yourself by teaching an after school activity your child may be interested in.

6. Become the class parent to help with class events.

7. Volunteer at school events.

8. Join and attend PTA and/or school board meetings.

9. Request or initiate programs and services if you need them.

10. Keep in touch with the teacher(s) to brain storm on how to help your child become more involved in the school community.

BELONGING TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITY:

Your child will benefit from participating in his extended neighborhood or community. This may be easier said than done, as your life may be so hectic that you may not feel much like a member of your own community yourself. Regardless, there are many things you can do to help your child feel a sense of belonging to the town where you live -- his hometown.

Tips on How to Help Your Child Become Part of the Local Community

1. Encourage your child to play with the neighborhood kids and to join a youth group, team, or club.

2. Take your child to the public library -- not just for books, but for activities as well.

3. Have your child volunteer at a local hospital, historical society, or religious or other community institution.

4. Show your child his community's special features and resources -- its buildings, parks, natural features, stores, and schools.

5. Set a good example for your child by participating in community events.

6. Instruct your child on what to say and do in social situations, such as talking to an elderly person who has difficulty hearing, attending a funeral, or just some pointers on chatting with neighbors at the community gathering. Naturally, these events have to be age-appropriate.

7. Encourage your child to help others. Maybe your child can help the three-year-old girl next door to tie her shoes. Or, when a disabled person is having difficulty getting through the front door of a store, perhaps you can ask your child to hold it open. (Note: Be sure not to push this point. If you insist on nagging your child about this, he may end up resenting it and thinking you care more about others than you do for him.)

In conclusion, by helping children become a part of the family and the school and local communities, parents provide them with opportunities for interactions that will make them feel accepted, a part of something greater than themselves. They will develop a sense of pride, fertile ground for self-esteem to grow. And, they will feel important, because they are important.

Note: For additional information on the learning disability (LD) issue, contact the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA). For additional information on AD/HD, contact CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder organization).

(Originally published at StrongLearning website and reprinted with permission of the authors, Linda Bress Silbert, Ph.D. and Alvin J. Silbert, Ed.D.)
About the Author
Linda Bress Silbert, Ph.D. and Alvin J. Silbert, Ed.D. are the founders/directors of STRONG Learning Centers in New York. They've written over 40 books and developed 20 phonics games for children of all ages. To learn more about the Silberts and the STRONG Method, visit their website Our Educational Books. To subscribe to their free e-zine, send a blank email to: subscribe@StrongLearning.com.
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