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Ideas & Debate

How to help children gain self-esteem, resolve issues

self esteem
Encourage your child to become the best. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

I was in London recently to celebrate a milestone birthday of my sister Ruth, and joining me there from America were my daughter Amy and her two delightful sons, 11-year old Jack and nine-year old Daniel. One evening Amy and I took the boys to see a spectacular musical play, School of Rock, which is about a struggling rock guitarist who was kicked out of his band and then disguised himself as a temporary teacher at a prestigious primary school so he could pay off his rent.

After seeing the musical talent of his students, they formed a rock band together. The project replaced normal lessons, as he encouraged the students to defy the strict discipline of the school and embrace their talents, gain in confidence and have fun. He comforted one whose overbearing father disapproved of rock music; reassured another who was worried about not being “cool”; and uplifted an overweight girl too self-conscious even to audition as a backup singer despite her amazing voice.

He taught the children that rock ’n’ roll was the way to stand up for themselves, which increasingly they did – much to the fury of both their parents and teachers.

The renegade teacher later smuggled his charges out of the school to compete in a “Battle of the Bands,” where the headmistress and the parents caught up with them. While outraged over the deception, they were eventually won over by the children’s talent and confidence on stage, and celebrated their great performance with them.

What a great production, and what a great message for parents, for teachers… and for the young ones too.

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As Amy and I reviewed what we had experienced with the boys we reflected on how the unhappy guitarist we met as the play opened was filled with “I’m not OK” feelings, bemoaning his “loser” status. As for the children, constrained by antiquated rules about what was forbidden – both at home and at school – they were forced into a life of obedience and compliance, where enjoyment was frowned upon and creativity and curiosity crushed.

How impressive therefore that Mr “I’m not OK” was the one who helped his charges feel increasingly empowered and “OK”, as he transformed their self-esteem and their enjoyment of life while simultaneously becoming “OK” himself.

The happy ending saw the parents and teachers also buy into the new scenario, feeling their children were “OK” too. The opening scenes of mutual disapproval gave way, however gradually and grudgingly, to win-win celebrations, allowing us to leave the theatre inspired and uplifted.

The next day we went to see another musical show, Matilda, based on the best-selling novel by Roald Dahl. Like School of Rock it is also set in a school, and with strikingly similar messages.

Here we met the precocious Matilda, a voracious reader whose crude parents showed nothing but contempt for books and the knowledge they offer.

Compounding her misery was a brutal headmistress who mercilessly bullied her students, but the talented child rose above the daunting challenges she faced. Here though the ending was not a win-win, as both her parents and the headmistress were forced to exit in shame.

So much to share with Jack and Daniel. Did they feel “OK” about themselves? Did they see others as being so? Do they have grown-ups in their lives who treat them as “Not OK”, eroding their self-esteem and making them feel like losers?

If so, how do they push back in ways that make things better rather than worse for both them and their elders?

And how do they relate to each other, where sibling rivalry can lead to futile win-lose attempts that inevitably result in lose-lose? Here I introduced them to “negotiating to win-win” by exchanging offers and requests, with each one promising to do less provoking and more compromising.

I also encouraged them to get on with their own conflict prevention and resolution, releasing their mother from having to intervene as mediator.

So reflect on the stories of both the plays I mentioned, and share them with your children. Think deeply about what they tell you about winning and losing, and enjoy feeling more “OK” about yourself and those around you.

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