Since 1976

September 2013

Building Self Esteem

“I want my child to feel more confident.” Isn’t this a comment that we often hear parents say when they are considering martial arts lessons?

A lack of confidence can be seen in little kids, in teenagers and even adults. What is self-confidence? It is a belief that one has value. It is an optimistic viewpoint about one’s abilities. And it is the belief that one will be accepted and appreciated by others.

The opposite of these feelings is poor self-esteem.

In little kids self-confidence can be improved by positive feedback by parents and teachers. Children who hear lots of praise and encouragement are on well on the road to building a sense of self-esteem.

In teenagers poor self-esteem can be caused by all kinds of issues related to the onset of adolescence. Awkwardness, loneliness, and peer pressure intensify during these years. Some adolescents act out to gain attention. Others withdraw. Self-destructive behavior such as smoking, drinking and drug taking is often due to poor self-image problems.

In both younger children and in teenagers self-confidence is multi-faceted. In other words, a kid can feel confident in one area and not so in another. Maybe he is good at math but bad at sports. A kid’s overall self-image is directly related to the amount of importance he or she places on the perceived area of poor performance.

Let’s say that kid who makes good grades but is physically awkward places more importance on his physical prowess than on his academic achievement. His lack of coordination on the baseball field has a greater impact on his overall self-image than his good grades. So even though he is a gifted academically, he suffers from poor self-esteem because he isn’t skilled at the things that he WANTS to be good at.

Think about it. Even as adults, we would be unhappy if we were forced to do only those things we weren’t good at.

So what is a parent to do? Experts say that kids need to be encouraged to enjoy the things they are good at and to become better at the things they like. They need to be encouraged to do the things that bring out the best in them.

This brings us to a critical question. What if the kid just isn’t good at the martial arts? What if she is really uncoordinated? What if he just can’t kick without almost falling over? If we listened strictly to some experts we would conclude that maybe these kids would be better off in a non-physical activity where they don’t have to face the embarrassment that their lack of coordination could cause.

Of course, as a martial arts teacher I would disagree, at least in part. I don’t believe in FORCING a kid to participate in an activity that they just hate (other than school that is). But you have to give the activity a chance. Especially if it is an activity like martial arts that can so benefit a kid’s self-esteem (and that sometimes takes a while to produce results).

Here is where the right type of instructor comes into play. There must be an environment in the classroom that fosters self-confidence and reduces the possibility of ridicule. All students have to be made to feel that they fit in, that they belong in the dojo. Teenagers especially need to feel like they are one of the group, that they aren’t left out. A teacher who encourages kids to become friends can help a lot in this area. Activities outside regular class hours can range from demonstrations at the mall to dojo parties.

Kids have to be encouraged when they do something right and also when they do something incorrectly. Children actually do want to be corrected, they just don’t want to be ridiculed. As grandmaster Jhoon Rhee says, “Always correct with a smile.”

And speaking of what is correct and incorrect, address not just physical techniques but life in general. Talk to your students about what is the right and wrong way to approach different situations. You can tie it into the martial arts by talking about being safe, both physically and emotionally. Talk to your students about hanging around with the right kind of friends. A good martial artist can talk himself out of a bad situation without having to resort to a physical technique. That is still using your martial arts skills.

Having the knowledge and the confidence to be able to avoid these kinds of situations goes a long way in developing self-esteem.