Self-Esteem and Learning


“Three-legged dog,” was Peter’s answer to my question, “What was the worse name your mother called you?”

Peter[1] was a participant in the group of thirty adolescents who signed up for my session, ‘Building Self-Esteem.’ The question was part of my unfreezing exercise for the training, and one of the objectives of the session was that at the end of the session, each participant would change his/her unflattering nickname to one that matches his/her personality.

Peter’s answer along with many others made me reflect on my own childhood. What were the names our parents called us especially when we missed the mark? The answers from the adolescents helped me to set the foundation for the session I prepared so well to deliver. I knew I had to make some changes to the script. I was unprepared for such graphic responses.

I know that many parents refer to their children in extreme negative terms; many not fit for sharing in this medium. However, I am not sure that some parents are aware that childhood hurts carry over into adulthood. Hurt words, physical abuse, mental abuse, unleash untold damage on our children’s sense of self and affect their well-being for many years, unless these children engage in structured interventions to restore their positive self-esteem

Self-esteem! What is that? Does self-esteem affect how we think about ourselves? Does it affect how we relate to each other? Will low self-esteem damage one’s self confidence? Will low self-esteem cause us to give up more easily than others whenever we are faced with challenges? Could low self-esteem impact negatively on happiness and quality of life? Does low self- esteem impact a child’s learning negatively?

The definition of self-esteem that follows is from the Department of Sociology, University of Maryland. “Self-esteem is a positive or negative orientation toward oneself; an overall evaluation of one’s worth or value. People are motivated to have high self-esteem, and having it indicates positive self-regard, not egotism. Self-esteem is only one component of the self-concept, which Rosenberg defines as “totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings with reference to himself as an object.” Besides self-esteem, self-efficacy or mastery, and self-identities are important parts of the self-concept.[2]

I am writing this post because I want to stimulate thinking/conversation around the notion that low self-esteem continues to affect our children in several ways. Whenever a seven-year-old is not bothered that he/she is placed last after the exam results are announced; something is wrong. Whenever an eight-year-old feels that he is not good enough to become a teacher; he would rather become a beggar, something is wrong. Such low aspirations are often linked to low self-esteem issues. I met that seven-year-old and that eight-year-old.

Among the group of thirty adolescents I referred to earlier in this post, all felt badly about themselves. All were reading three or four grade levels below their existing grade levels. Several experienced living on the streets. None knew how to change his/her dire situation. Many did not care. Their low-self esteem was affecting their learning and much more.

My session, ‘Building Self-Esteem’ went very well. The participants engaged in several activities through role-play and simulations. They had fun, and at the end of the day, they felt good about themselves. The organizers of the training knew that they had a lot more work to do with these adolescents, and I was confident that they would.

Peter, who I referred to at the beginning of the post, said that instead of ‘three-legged-dog’, he was now ‘a five series BMW’. We all had much fun and laughter listening to the new nick names.

In preparing to write this blog post, I read the book, 100 Ways to Build Self-Esteem and Teach Values by Diana and Julia Loomans. I would recommend this book. This mother and daughter team provides practical suggestions and exercises that may be used by parents, children and teachers to build self-esteem. The book is a valuable resource, filled with practical suggestions, some of which is light-hearted and illustrative. I want to highlight the list, ‘Ten Caring Ways to Connect with Children Each Day’[3] on page 2 of the book. The list offers practical ways that are easily implementable. The ten ways are: compassion; clear communication; creativity; consistency; challenge; cheerfulness; confidence; calmness; clear agreements; and commitment. This list may be used immediately. Happy reading.

Talk soon……. Claire Spence

[1] Name changed for this article.

[2]  3/26/2018 (

[3] Loomans, Diana and Julia, 100 Ways to Build Self-Esteem and Teach Values. California: H.J. Cramer, 1994. p.2

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