Lessons in Children's Self Esteem from a Young Gymnast

by Theresa
(Ohio)

(Visitor's children self esteem stories):

When my daughter was three-years-old I enrolled her in a local dance studio for a ballet/tap class and a gymnastics class. I had no other goal at that time than to get her to stop clinging to my leg and crying all the time. She was so shy and clingy to me that I knew the first day of preschool was going to be devastating for her.

The first day of dance class was horrifying. I sat out in the small waiting room stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder with more seasoned moms used to all this. I listened to my daughter cry on the other side of the door and it took everything in me not to run in there, scoop her up, and make her feel safe and secure again.

Yet, I sat there, accepting the comfort of the other mothers, trying not to cry myself. A couple days later was her first gymnastics class and she actually knew another little girl in there, but still spent the first half of the class crying.

The next week went easier and the next week even easier yet. She started to run into the studio, small legs dancing across the floor, leaving me behind for an hour at a time. I thought my job was done. She was on her own. She was confident. She felt safe without my leg to cling to.

Little did I know that was just the beginning of the road for my daughter's self esteem. I didn't know a lot about children's self esteem at that point but it became quite clear throughout the years that my little girl was anything but confident or secure with herself.

She quickly gave up dancing in favor of gymnastics and she was actually very good at it. While she quickly bypassed all the beginner classes and outperformed all the little girls in her age group, she was never confident in her abilities. When she did something great in a class she hung her head and hurried to the back of the line, refusing to dwell on the applause others were giving her.

In school, she was shy and seemed to stand on the perimeter of the classroom, never getting into the groups with the other kids. She refused to tell anyone that she did gymnastics and continually downplayed her own skills. She would say she "sucks" or didn't do it "like the other girls," always seeming to put herself down.

This is when I started to really worry about her self esteem. She just didn't see how great she was doing.

Today, she is a competitive gymnast on a tumbling and trampoline team and she is just starting to learn ways to boost her self esteem. The bright spot in her self esteem development has been her gymnastics coach. She instantly spotted the self esteem issues with my daughter and has taken her under wing.

Here are some things she does in the gym each week to make all the girls see how great they really are:

1. She doesn't put stress on the girls to be perfect all the time. The girls at other gyms we have attended would look embarrassed or completely break down in tears when they messed up, but at this gym they fall on their butts, giggle and get up to try again.

This is important because my daughter tends to put a lot of pressure on herself and since she has some challenges that make it harder for her, she is stressed most of the time. She is more at ease in this gym because she knows that messing up is okay. She doesn't get down on herself now.

2. Her coach stresses self-competition over outside competition. There are a couple girls within this gym that compete at my daughter's level and there are hundreds of others that she has to face at competitions. Rather than focusing on that, her coach advises her to compete with herself. This way it doesn't matter if she places fifth place because it is better than the seventh place she took last time.

This focus does boost children's self esteem because they are more concerned with bettering themselves than beating others. My daughter still wants to be first every time, of course, but she isn't heart broken when that doesn't happen. She has a better concept of how good she is because she has learned that doing her best is more important than beating someone else's best.

3. Her coach doesn't set her up for disappointment or failure. I have been at gyms where girls were placed in levels of competition that they weren't ready for and then pressured to get ready. The coach we have right now doesn't do this. She places my daughter where she will be challenged and where she has to work hard to succeed, but where she also has the ability to do well.

The best booster for children's self esteem is success that is well earned. Succeeding by cheating or because you are at a level that is below your ability is not rewarding. Working hard and then succeeding is a huge boost in the self esteem department.

Of course, the fact that she is really competing with herself makes success even more likely to happen. When she tops her previous best score on the trampoline or scores well with a harder skill level in tumbling, she is so proud of herself and her self esteem gets a boost even if she didn't take number one.

I am glad we have found this gym because this coach has taught me how to boost children's self esteem for both of my children. My daughter is starting to come out of her shell and thinks more highly of herself and her abilities.

Here are the strategies for boosting children's self esteem that I have learned:

Don't make mistakes a big deal or children will feel bad about themselves when they are made. Rather, laugh it off and encourage them to immediately do it better. This shows them that mistakes happen and it doesn't mean they can't do it! The immediate repeating of it is important to the lesson.

Children who work more on bettering themselves and being their personal best have more to feel good about than children who just compare themselves to others. Not all children are gymnasts, but if they have some hobby, sport, craft, or passion that they can compete with themselves in they will have lots of reasons to feel good about themselves.

Children need to see themselves improving in something. As they watch their own progress and see that they are succeeding due to hard work, they will naturally feel better about themselves.

Goals are important but children who constantly fail to meet goals have poor self esteem. To boost children's self esteem it is important to help them set realistic goals that require a bit of hard work. They will get a huge boost in self esteem as they work hard and actually find success in the end.

I have learned from this that children need something other than video games or other passive play toys to really feel good about themselves. They need something challenging to work toward so they can compete with themselves, see improvement, and know how great they really are.

Theresa


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