Motivation and Self-Esteem (Part 7)

School children and their teacher in a high school science classWelcome! If this is your first foray into my series on Motivation, we’ve been talking about a book entitled SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score, by Dr. Tom Fischgrund.

Dr. Fischgrund studied 160 students who scored perfectly on the SAT in 2003…and their families.

In several of the interviews done with perfect score students themselves, it was found that high achievers’ parents respected and encouraged their kids.

“Perfect score students don’t operate in a vacuum. They can’t tap into their inner motivation without first having high self-esteem. They need to believe that they can succeed before they develop the drive to succeed.

Parents, of course, can build or tear down their children’s self-esteem. Starting at the youngest age, children get cues from their parents about how high their expectations are. If children know that their parents expect great things that are realistically achievable, then they will be motivated to achieve those things.”[1]

Some would scoff at the whole concept of self-esteem and believe-in-yourself psychology. To them I can only say there is such a thing as self-esteem or self-worth. It is very real, and a child either has low, average, or high self-esteem. While self-esteem is internal, it is formed by external factors or cues from parents, siblings, friends, and other relationships.

A young child’s parents and close family members have control over his self-esteem, and children raised in a loving home will have higher self-esteem than those raised in a home where they do not feel important or valued.

Parents need to instill in their children the belief that they have the ability to succeed.

That is not to say that failure isn’t going to occur. Failure is a part of life, and teaching our children that sometimes things will not turn out the way we want them to is vital.

Learning how to deal with failure was a real challenge for my children. Because they tend to throw their whole selves into a project or activity, they take failure personally when it does come. But there are always important lessons to be learned through failure, and my husband and I don’t discourage our children from trying a new activity out of a fear of failure.

It’s not easy to watch our children fail, is it? No, it never is, but we recognize that struggle is part of what brings out the beauty of the butterfly as it breaks the restraints of its cocoon.

Freedom requires struggle.

As a tenth-grade chemistry student, I quietly fought against failure. Because I was an honors student, failure was especially humiliating, and I hid it from my parents until my first semester grade report arrived. I don’t remember my parents saying much at all. They knew I was a “good student” who always tried to do my best. In reality, there was something unapproachable about the chemistry teacher; he didn’t talk much. His classroom was always eerily quiet.

I still remember the way he would look at me and my lab partner during labs when we didn’t know the answer to a question. He would look at us with a sort of grin on his face as if to say, “What do you mean you don’t know? You’re kidding, right?”

So I stopped asking questions, and so did my lab partner. I ended the year with a solid D.

Looking back now, I cannot believe my questions were not taken seriously. The teacher was not gifted in teaching at a high school level, and I was not a self-learner. Consequently, the last thing I would want to study as an adult is chemistry because I still don’t think I can. “No-I-can’t” is what I hear in my head when I flirt with the idea of studying my high schoolers’ Apologia chemistry book.

Academically, a self-propelled student is going to find out that yes, he can do things on his own with excellence.

Parents who require mastery learning are setting their kids up for success because mastery ensures that a student is constantly moving on but not before he is ready to do so. That yes-I-can attitude is what translates into positive self-esteem.

Setting realistic goals is very important to building self-esteem. In order to set goals that are challenging as well as realistic, the student has to understand that he can do it, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Is the student willing to do what it takes to achieve his goal? Does he understand how hard he is going to have to work to achieve it?

While a student may work hard to achieve a goal, he is naturally going to work harder if he has set the goal himself than if a parent has set the goal for him. The “realistic” part comes into play when the student sees just how much effort is required to meet the goal. Is it an amount of effort that he is willing to give?

In the long run, achieving a goal will depend upon the student’s personal motivation which is a direct result of the self-confidence he’s developed via childhood experiences. Many of us spend our adult lives overcoming the lack of self-confidence stemming from our childhood days.

[1] Tom Fischgrund, PhD, 7 Secrets, p. 69.

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About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

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