Every single day, we as teachers have an important role to help our students to exceed grade level standards. We differentiate instruction and often discuss academic progress with our students. Yet I believe we have a role that is far more important: nurturing our students, helping them to become considerate, responsible, self-respecting young men and women.
Students ages 8-12 are very much concerned with the people they are becoming. Sometimes, they struggle with their self-identity and are not aware of what sets them apart as an individual. They listen to music on the radio and do not even realize what the words in the songs convey. One week, they may say they are someone’s closest friend, but the next week they are trying their hardest to stay as far away from that person as possible. Sometimes they utter hurtful words, not realizing the ramifications or the consequences. Sometimes, kids are treated disrespectfully, further complicating the situation. Recently I was speaking with a trusted friend, and she told me about the bullying her son and a friend has endured in middle school. Her son's friend apparently lacks a great deal of self-confidence because he frequently plagues himself with negative self-talk.
The intermediate grades magnify many situations students have not had to deal with before. Students want to be respected and accepted by their friends. They do not want to feel like they are “different”. I encountered that grim feeling a great deal in fourth and fifth grade, and I sometimes did not realize what made me “different”.
Recently I have thought about the general population of 8-12 year-olds and what advice can be given to parents, teachers, and students to boost self-confidence. I personally believe every student in this age group needs to think about the person they are becoming and who they want to become.
Eventually, I want to become a parent, so I thought of approaching this age group from both a teacher and parent’s perspective. There are important issues that obviously just the parent should deal with, and there are issues that teachers can appropriately discuss with their students as well.
When I think about an extremely prevalent issue in the lives of intermediate students, it is bullying. It has been researched that over three million students in grades 6-10 are victims of bullying on a daily basis. Middle school is approaching for my students in the next year and a half, and they may not realize how emotionally difficult those three years of school can be for them. I think about how children are fragile, sensitive individuals, and just a few years later, they are thrust into an immense period of confusion. It is incredible how several schools in our nation have promoted an anti-bullying program, yet this issue remains so very prevalent that many students still come home feeling inadequate. If anything needs to be discussed with students ages 8-12 or older, it is the fact that bullying is a reality so harsh it cannot be ignored.
Students are victimized for a variety of reasons. Bullied students may not realize those who are the perpetrators are insecure and target people who they perceive to be a threat. In some cases, it is an intellectual threat. In other cases, a student who is being bullied may come from a more stable home life. Or they may “look” a certain way that does not meet the “status quo.” It can also be a combination of all those reasons.
Bullying statistics are very discouraging, though we can help our students to feel successful in our classrooms. Here are some facts you should know:
- Bullying begins in elementary school, peaks in middle school, and falls off in high school. It does not, however, disappear altogether. (The Facts About Bullying, 1997)
- 61.6% of students who are bullied are picked on because of their looks or speech. (U.S. News and World Report, May 7, 2001)
- Of the students who are bullied, 55.6% report being hit, slapped, or pushed. (U.S. News and World Report, May 7, 2001)
- Up to 7% of eighth grade students stay home at least once a month because of bullies. (bullybeware.com)
- Only 25% of students report that teachers intervene in bullying situations, while 71% of teachers believe they always intervene. (bullybeware.com)
How should teachers and parents address this issue? Perhaps these upcoming tips about boosting self-worth will help.
Recently I was speaking to a family with a student in middle school where they approached the teacher about an important issue, and the teacher responded with, “I have too many students to deal with to attend to this issue.” I think about students who are bullied, particularly those in a secondary setting, and there are teachers who brush it off as a minor occurrence. “Since I did not witness it, there is nothing I can do about it,” may be an explanation. I think about the teachers who literally work because they are “stuck between a rock and a hard place,” yet their hearts are not invested in their careers.
Teachers have a prerogative to ensure their students’ safety and boost their self-confidence. Words that you may not believe are hurtful can have dire ramifications and hurt a student on a very deep level. Of course, teachers encounter challenging times, yet they need to be true role models for their students. Even if something out of line is ever said, it needs to come with an apology. Every child is talented in some area. Nobody is “without hope.” A student failing math can be a sensational artist. Not every student is wired the same. Not everyone learns through auditory or even visual instruction; some students may be highly kinesthetic. Learning preferences are to not be taken lightly, and we need to make sure our classrooms are enriching, encouraging, and nurturing environments.
How do we enrich, encourage, and nurture?
1. Make your students aware of their strengths or what you may perceive as their strengths. Tell them they can do anything if they set their minds to it. This week, I wrote each of my students an affirmation prior to the FCAT. I stated positive things about their work ethic and the progress they have made this year.
2. Keep in close contact with their parents. Though it may not seem “appreciated” from all your students, you are conveying that you care about their choices and what happens to them.
3. In class, read or make available a variety of stories that address changes that kids encounter at this age and challenges they face, good and bad. Excellent books include: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis, A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban, Loser by Jerry Spinelli, 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass, and Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
4. Model appropriate behavior in your classroom. Encourage students to find words that replace “Shut up.” If students are using “guff” with one another, speaking in inappropriate tones, model a lesson about the importance of speaking to others using an appropriate tone. Walk around the classroom while you teach, not just planting yourself in one place. Listen to how your students communicate with one another. Sometimes, students may not understand social norms like you believe they do.
5. Provide OPPORTUNITIES. For example, the fifth-grade advanced level teacher and I are bringing our classes to a Renaissance Fest next Friday as well as the University of Florida next month. Every year in May, my students visit St. Augustine as well, seeing the lighthouse, Castillo de San Marcos, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and the entire city through a narrated trolley tour. Also this year, my students have decorated the Christmas tree at City Hall with their kindergarten Book Buddies, visited the public library, been to an environmental center, enjoyed a day at the park, and have been told they will have a skating field trip after our state testing ends. OPPORTUNITIES enhance thinking. Find ways to make learning more exciting in everyday instruction as well as outside your classroom.
6. Try a Book Buddy system if you have not before. I honestly would not say, “I don’t have time,” because then you’re not giving your students the opportunity to be a tremendous role model to younger students. One of the kindergarten teachers and I have had a program since THIS YEAR’S students were in kindergarten! The program has worked some years better than others, but students can read books, complete hands-on math explorations together, try simple science experiments, and learn to write well. Fun activities revolving around holidays are a given as well. Today at recess was a testament to my Book Buddy program when a first-grade student came up, hugged me, and asked me about her Book Buddy from last year. She said how she loved visiting City Hall last year!
7. Share inspirational quotes and stories with your students.
Speaking to your child at this age about bullying, making healthy choices, taking care of themselves and being an individual is a prerogative. Boosting self-esteem increases resilience.
1. It is important to discuss self-image with your child. At this age, kids often compare themselves to those on television, people in magazines, and music artists. Often, children do not realize that people who show up in magazines have been airbrushed or edited using a Photoshop-like program.
2. It is important to discuss good hygiene and your child taking pride in his or her appearance. It is important to discuss things such as washing in the shower, brushing teeth, using fluoride, and maintaining hair, washing and brushing it as well as making sure it looks healthy. Kids need to make sure they are making good choices about what they wear, that their clothing fits well and looks good on them. Kids go through tremendous growth spurts in their intermediate elementary years, so clothes may be getting too tight or short and they do not realize it. Kids seem to be very much into “looking their best” at this age, and it is so important for parents to enforce the importance of taking care of oneself. It does have an influence on self-esteem and general perceptions from others. I have heard some saddening comments over the years regarding self-perceptions of outer appearances. Does your child like the way he or she looks? Compliment your child often, and tell him or her that looks do not contribute much to the overall portrait of a person, yet it is important for them to take excellent care of themselves.
3. Weight is a major concern for kids at this age because they may not understand the fact they have gotten a temporary layer of fat to prepare for a growth spurt or remain thin, no matter how much they eat. Yet as this website states, “It all depends on how our genes have programmed our bodies to act.” It is important for kids to realize that fluctuations in weight are normal, though they likely do not realize it.
4. It is extremely important to discuss making good choices regarding peer pressure. Particularly in middle school, students are increasingly being exposed to drugs. In 2005, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University revealed that 62 percent of high school students and 28 percent of middle school students attend “drug-infested schools”. “That means some 10.6 million high school students and 2.4 million middle school students are likely returning to schools where drugs are used, kept, and sold,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., chairman and president as well as former United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
5. Provide chances for your child to learn new skills along with you. For example, ask to read his or her stories if he or she is enjoying writing in school. Try to prepare a new recipe with your child. Perhaps expose your child to playing an instrument or vocal performance. Share your passions, such as photography or acting. Take time on weekends to learn new skills together.
6. Ask your child what he or she would like to try if the opportunity were given. My ten-year old self always wanted to take dance lessons, yet I was never granted the opportunity. I remember stopping at a dance studio with my mother, yet we never signed up for the class. In my adult years, I am still not able to dance well, yet perhaps that would have improved if I would have taken the advice of dance instructors. Perhaps your child is a budding musician and (s)he does not realize it as of yet.
7. Emphasize healthy food choices and try to prepare some meals together that tie together all the food groups. I always admired my grandfather’s organic garden growing up and was excited when my dad brought vegetables home, so you can always try to plant a garden if you have never taken the opportunity. Talk to your children about the importance of eating well now and how it aids in their development.
8. If you feel like you have focused on negatives more than positives lately, try to focus on just the positives for a week and see how your child reacts. From time to time, set up situations where you know your child will be praised.
9. When your child has done the right thing or really shown progress, let him or her know how much it means to you.
10. This may amaze parents, but many teachers want to know how they can help families. Does your child have a warm winter coat? Are you able to purchase new clothing, or are you having a difficult time? Is your child in need of school supplies? Keep in contact with your child’s teacher about concerns you have, and they may very well be able to assist you.
11. Teach your child about goal setting. Set short-term and long-term goals, especially pertaining to your child’s confidence. Examples of short-term goals (things you can realistically do in the next few days): Make a new friend, go to the public library and check out a new type of book, do something new to help your family around the house, try a new hairstyle, and begin helping out animals at home. Examples of long-term goals (goals that take as short as a few weeks to a few months to perhaps even a year to master): Improve and master math skills, learn an instrument, learn cursive, learn sign language or another new language, become involved in a new sport, become involved in community service projects once a month, learn to use a video camera well, learn to cook well, and write a chapter book.
12. Educate your child about time management. Explain why it is important to keep a “good schedule”, particularly with homework completion.
13. Interesting quote from greatdad.com: “Keep clicking away with your camera from day one, and you’ll notice your kid had his own personality right through those growing years. You might find the same gestures, the eyes, the facial expressions, the mischief, the flashes of 4-, 5- and 15-year-old behavior are clearly visible from the time your kid is one.”
14. If you are able, try to get your child involved in a stimulating summer program through a museum, camp, theater, or theme park. This article discusses discovering strengths while this website lists opportunities for both intermediate-age kids and older kids.
Important Question: When was the last time you had a discussion with your child and really felt "connected"?
- For Parents to Respond: The Personality Questionnaire for Kids
- How to Boost Your Child's Self-Confidence by Victoria Flynn: “If you’re interested in raising a self-confident child, take a look around you and try to see the world from the child’s point of view. Take a moment to think about yourself. What are the things that give you the greatest boost in a day?”
- Thinkport: Discovering Strengths
- Cooking Helps Kids With Language Skills, Self-Confidence, and Following Directions
1. First, practice positive self-talk. Let’s review negative self-talk first: “I cannot do it.” “I don’t have any willpower.” “I am a failure.” “I’ll never be able to accomplish this.” “I am not _____ enough.” “I am weird.” “Other people seem so much more ________ than me.” Now the opposite comes in: “I am going to be able to accomplish this.” “I can do anything if I put my mind to it.” “Making mistakes is only human.” “There is more to a person than his or her looks.”
2. Write about yourself. Keeping a journal is a tremendous tool. Document your experiences and thoughts so you can look back on situations and see how you responded. Also, you will be able to look back on experiences and approach new challenges more wisely. Perhaps start a weblog or learn how to make a website because self-expression can be exciting.
3. Treat people the way you want to be treated. I know, you have heard this, but you have to practice this. Thank people for what they have given you. Offer new things in return. Build a strong reputation for yourself with your teachers, classmates, team members, etc. Be generous, honest, open-minded, and use your best listening skills.
4. Think about what you want to be when you grow up. You may want to be three things right now: a marine biologist, forensic scientist, and journalist. Explore every option. Have you been exposed to a college campus? It is never too early to think about college.
5. Stand to your full height. Learn to stand and walk with confidence with your back straight. This website says, “I imagine that a rope is pulling the top of my head toward the sky, and the rest of my body straightens accordingly.”
6. Make to-do lists, particularly in your school agenda or a notebook so you know if you are staying on top of things. It is very easy to forget to complete important things because we get caught up in other things.
I cannot say it better than this website: "The etymology of the word confidence is interesting. Confidere is Latin meaning to trust fully. Children must learn to trust themselves, to trust their own abilities and I don't know of any way to do that but in the doing of things. Children need to be coached on how to attempt things and how to overcome the barriers and obstacles and to get up again when they fail and learn from that failure and go on. It's back to the good old-fashioned basics of hard work and persistence and learning from failures."