Research Paper By Nada Stadtlander
(Youth & Parent Coach, NEW ZEALAND)
Unless specifically referenced, the content of this article comes from my own personal experience working with children and adults alike, and from the learning I’ve received through attending International Coach Academy.
My passion is to see children doing their best, being their best and loving their journey of life. For a number of years, I have been working in schools with children of very diverse cultures. Their ages ranged from 8 – 14. One of the many things I have noticed is an increase in the number of children who lack basic social skills and coping mechanisms, which are two things that can be a result of a poor self-image.
A healthy self-image is one of the most important first steps in being able to relate well with others. Like adults, children cannot learn to love, respect and honour one another unless they first learn to love, respect and honour themselves. This assists them to become resilient people – those who “bounce” back and grow as individuals when challenges and difficulties come their way.
What is self-image?
Definition: “the idea, conception, or mental image one has of oneself”(1)
In exploring this topic with a counselor friend of mine she explained that as humans, our self-image or self-concept is built around the experiences we’ve had, the way people have treated us (especially those closest to us) and our interpretation of the messages we receive from the outside world.
The following New Zealand study helps to substantiate the importance of building a healthy self-image in children:
In a long term study conducted in New Zealand, Trzesniewski reported that high self-esteem promotes goals, expectancies, coping mechanisms, and behaviours that facilitate productive achievement and work experiences and impede mental and physical health problems, substance abuse, school dropouts, and antisocial behaviour. (Trzesniewski et al, 2005) Trzesniewski reported that those with low self-esteem as adolescents were 20% more likely to be arrested for crime, and 28% more likely to be arrested for violent behaviour by age 26. With respect to mental health, she reported that those with low self-esteem as adolescents were 17% more likely to be depressed as an adult. Her study found that there was also a major impact on productive achievement and work with a 49% decrease in those graduating from college and an 18% increase in unemployment for those with low self-esteem. (Trzesniewski, 2006) (2)
It is clear to see that children with a healthy self-image are happier people, relate well with other people, have better learning outcomes, make a positive all-round contribution to their world and are more inclined to be resilient.
My theory of why nowadays more children have a poor self-image and battle socially more than ever before is for a variety of reasons. Some are:
Neglect is a form of abuse, and unfortunately unlike other forms of abuse fly under the radar and can be harder to detect. It completely erodes ones self-image, self-confidence and the human right to develop and thrive as a person. Neglect can also adversely affect children’s physical and mental health.
Not Enough Quality Time With Parents
There are huge financial pressures on families today resulting often in both parents working full-time or a solo parent having to work full-time. It then becomes necessary for the child to go to before/after school care until late in the afternoon when a parent collects them. Very little quality time is available to spend with the child when they get home because of the stress and business of the parents having to do the household chores, cook, help with homework (if time permits) and then bedtime. This lack of quality time affects the ability for all parties to develop their relationship through sharing and exploring life together and can adversely affect self-image. This issue can further be compounded in single parent families (of which there are many more now than ever before). They have to do everything themselves and have no one to share the day-to-day routines with or be that significant adult feeding into their own lives.
Poor Parent Choices And Role Modelling
Solo parents going from one relationship to another, often having had many different partners. Some move house often and that makes it necessary at times for the children to move school as well. This creates insecurity in the child and poor role modeling in terms of interpersonal relationships and can erode their sense of identity. It sends the message that when things get tough it’s easier to bale out rather than sticking at it, working through things and committing to that relationship.
People spend a lot of time on social media where it becomes easy not to have to engage “face to face”. Many think nothing of being on their iphones, ipads, androids, lap tops etc and being totally “zoned out” while a child, loved one, friend or colleague is trying to talk to or engage with them. This sends a message that they are not important enough to give them their undivided attention or to look at them while they are speaking. This erodes self-image and sends the message that what they have to say is not important. Also, a double standard exists here. Very little courtesy or diplomacy is extended on social media and people can be very hurtful and brutal at times. Generally, they would not choose to behave that way personally face to face. Children pick up on and model what they see their parents and others doing and that then becomes the “norm” for them. Children get confused about how to behave socially with one another.
Some Children Would Rather Be On Their “Devices” Thank Playing Outside With A Friend
Most if not all schools now have a large proportion of “IT or I-Learning” and many children have their own mobile phones and lap tops, i-pads or the like, which makes it easier for them to do their work, research and play games. Whilst a lot of what they learn is excellent, and the ability now for even very young children to navigate the internet and put together very creative work through their “i-learning” is mind blowing, they have also learnt to become more reliant on the stimulation of the “gadgets” and sadly many have lost their desire to simply play and interact with one another as they get bored easily. Too much emphasis is on “IT” and too little emphasis is on getting out in the fresh air and playing with one another. The latter promotes health and social development.
The Road To A Healthier Self-Image
Smashing the “old” mirror and looking into the “new” mirror
Helping a child to see themselves as the brilliant, amazing, multi-faceted, talented individuals that they are is the first step towards them building healthy social skills. We need to be able to love ourselves before we can honour, love and respect anyone else.
As previously stated self-image is “the idea, conception, or mental image one has of oneself”(1)
As coaches we understand that sometimes the way people “perceive” something may not always be an accurate translation of what it actually is, but can appear to be a “real” or “true” representation to the client.
In children the same is true. When a child has a concept or mental image of themselves that doesn’t align with the truth about who they really are, those concepts need to be challenged in an attempt to shift them to a concept, image or belief system that serves them well and has possibilities and opportunities for the best life they can live.
The first area that needs to be explored, understood and embraced for the child to shift to a healthier idea or concept of themselves is that of their “identity”. “Who am I and what are my strengths in terms of my skills, abilities, talents and attributes”?
Helping the child to understand that they were born for a reason. That each of them has purpose and with their very unique set of skills has an important contribution to make to this world. This not only helps to develop their self-image by working from a strength base, but also gives them hope for a better future.
Some tasks that could help a child embrace their identity and build their self-image are:
- Researching the origin of their name and what it means. Is there a story behind how they got their name? What is it?
- Uncovering a little of their family tree or family history;
- Doing a personality profile.
Whenever I have worked with a group of children exploring these topics, it generally brings about a fresh energy and enthusiasm in their attitude. It seems to breathe life into them as they feel affirmed in who they are. They get excited exploring their strengths and talents and often feel empowered to harness them and run their race of life with fresh gusto!
What governs what we do?
The choices we make are determined by the things we value. Core values are a set of values that we live by. They are convictions of the heart and are generally more strongly held than beliefs that can change with for example, more information. Core values are part of the fabric of who we are and get demonstrated on the outside by the way we live our lives. They often govern what we do and how we do them.
Whether children are conscious of core values or not, they are usually the drivers of most of their decision-making. However, when a child has a poor self-image they most likely also have a lack of confidence and do not have the ability to stand up for themselves or their core values. They are the ones that usually give in to peer pressure and get bullied.
Helping children discover what their core values are builds into their self-image in the following ways:
- that it’s okay to be an individual with some different core values to others (including their family);
- that their core values are part of the unique way that they see and make sense of the world;
- that when their actions line up with their core values it brings energy to everything they do. They experience greater happiness, feel better about themselves, have more fun and usually get along better with others;
Truth or Lies?
The concept of true or intrinsic value is vital for children to understand in order to have a healthy self-image.
To know the truth:
- that we were all born with true value and therefore, we are all important and have a unique contribution to make to this world.
- that no matter what we look like, no matter what we own or what we do or whether we excel or not, we all have value.
- that even when people treat us badly or bully us, we NEVER lose our true value. The effects of those negative experiences can cause us to believe lies about our value, which erodes our self-image. What happens in reality is our true value hasn't changed at all. Instead what does happen is, we develop a sense of value that is a counterfeit of the truth.
- that when our sense of value has diminished, it is because we have allowed someone to steal it from us and we can choose at any time to get it back by believing again the truth about who we really are.
It is important to explore underlying beliefs when dealing with children who have a diminished sense of value, and as coaches we need to be very aware of our own limitations and refer children on for counseling when necessary.
However, when we do feel it is within our area of expertise to proceed with coaching, it is important to first explore underlying beliefs to determine how they came to that belief system. Building trust from the sessions beforehand is vital in supporting a child through this kind of exploration. Initially proceeding with curiosity, gently asking powerful questions, and then moving to a place of holding the space to give the child space to think and to speak. Mirroring back can help the child gain clarity and awareness through which a change of perspective and belief can come. Also positive visualization can help bring change in this situation. To reinforce their fresh concept of self, vision boards and positive affirmations of the truth of who they are can be beneficial.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, a healthy self-image is one of the most important first steps in being able to relate well with others. Like adults, children cannot learn to love, respect and honour one another unless they first learn to love, respect and honour themselves. Hence the need to build a healthy self-image. This assists a child to become a resilient person – one who “bounces” back and grows as a person when challenges and difficulties come their way.
Having coached the children to this point, they are better prepared to explore ideas about friends and friendship that will equip them to hopefully build some long-lasting relationships.