Acceptance and belonging are essential to human growth and development. We all know and agree that social acceptance is vital to students’ development. Being rejected by classmates can result in negative socio-emotional and academic outcomes. This is already well-known. But what about the role of self-acceptance?
Self-acceptance is defined as “an individual's acceptance of all of his/her attributes, positive or negative.” It includes body acceptance, self-protection from negative criticism, and believing in one's capacities (www.health.harvard.edu). From this definition it is clear that self-acceptance and self-esteem goes hand-in-hand.
Students with learning disabilities often suffer from low self-esteem and an impaired sense of self-worth. If your child has Dyslexia, or ADHD, or both, or any other learning barrier, he/she may mistakenly feel less competent than his/her peers. It is important to help such children recognise both their areas of difficulty and their areas of strength. Children encountering barriers to learning are likely to be hyper-self critical based upon academic comparisons with their peers.
It is important that we, as parents and teachers, promote children to become independent as opposed to coddled. Independence is a very big booster for self-confidence and self-acceptance. To develop self-acceptance, it is important for children to be aware of their strengths but also their weaknesses. Helping your child identify and celebrate his strengths is important because, like adults, children tend to focus more on their shortcomings than on their strengths.
Praise is important, but is by no means the only way to build self-esteem. As it turns out, there are better ways to build self-esteem than heaping on praise for everything kids do—starting with helping them become competent in the world. To do so, you have to learn to step back and let your child take risks, make choices, solve problems and stick with what they start, fail sometimes and succeed even if success only comes the fifth, tenth or thousandth time they try. Self-esteem comes from feeling loved and secure, and from developing competence. As much as we would al want to, children cannot be praised into competence. Competence takes hard work, trying again and again, experiencing failure (sometimes more than once) and so much more. Confidence comes from doing, from trying and failing and trying again—and self-acceptance means that we need to teach our children that failure and trying again is just as important as getting it right the first time. With this we teach our children to accept their failures, to try again and to accept themselves as human beings who will encounter failure and success in their lifetime. Self esteem and at the end, self-acceptance means letting your child take healthy risks. Start by forcing yourself to stand back while your child takes healthy risks and not try, as we as parents often do, to rescue our children from failure all the time. Let them spill that juice on the floor rather than trying to pour it for them. Let them clean it afterwards. Let them do all their homework wrong, let them take responsibility for doing their own school tasks and let them take responsibility for turning in work on due dates. Let them fix it themselves if they make mistakes. They will then learn to solve their own problems. Let them know that all of this is part of the learning process and that nobody gets it right all of the time. Provide opportunities for children to make their own choices. When children make their own age-appropriate choices, they feel more powerful. It is widely recognised that children as young as two can start considering the consequences of their decisions. Young children, for example, can decide on what they will wear i.e. a coat, or hat in winter. If they know the difference between cold and warm, they can make that decision. Children should have control over some things and take responsibility for their choices. Children need opportunities to demonstrate their competence and feel that their contribution is valuable. This can be by asking them to help with setting the table, cleaning their own room or any other chores. What to do when children struggle or fail? Show them you accept them. Explain the situation, explore their experiences and feelings together and let them know that they can try again or try something different. Most importantly, let them know that you accept them fully for who they are, with all of their strengths and all of their weaknesses and embrace any successes and failures. No matter how many do-overs or practice sessions or how much perseverance it takes, show them you accept them and their abilities. Show them to accept their own shortcomings and to celebrate their own successes. A lot of parents think struggles and failure will hurt their child's self-esteem, but it should actually be seen as a good opportunity to learn self-acceptance. Let us lead the way and show our children to embrace everything that makes them unique and to accept themselves and their parents as people with strengths and weaknesses. We all teach our children to be kind to others. Let 2022 be the year in which we teach our children to be kind to themselves.