Building Self-Esteem at Home and in Montessori

Parents know how critical self-esteem is to their children’s future success.  Without self-worth, life’s pathways are much steeper and much more difficult.  Did you know that by age five, children’s self-esteem is on par with adults’, and this trait will often remain stable across their whole lives?

This news comes from recent research out of the University of Washington’s Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences, to be published in January 2016.  “By age 5 children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to that of adults, according to a new study by University of Washington researchers. Because self-esteem tends to remain relatively stable across one’s lifespan, the study suggests that this important personality trait is already in place before children begin kindergarten.”

One of the hallmarks of Montessori education is the profound impact of the classroom on a child’s self-esteem, something that Dr. Montessori noticed immediately, as far back as 1907.  As Dr. Montessori noted in The Absorbent Mind, self-correction is one of the keys to self-worth and happiness. “The child must see for himself what he can do, and it is important to give him not only the means of education but also to supply him with indicators which tell him his mistakes……The child’s interest in doing better, and his own constant checking and testing, are so important to him that his progress is assured. His very nature tends toward exactitude and the ways of obtaining it appeal to him.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 229)

Self-esteem is also nurtured by the three year age groupings in the classroom.  As a child grows, he or she turns back to help those who are younger, and in that process, feel the unconscious adulation and respect from younger peers.  This happens on a daily basis, for years at a time, and because it is so constant, a child cannot help but be transformed from one who is timid into one who is strong.

A child does not grow more independent, more confident, more poised, by hearing the words, “good job.”  A child’s self-worth grows because he knows, deep down, he has exerted real effort to create something of value.  As Montessori once said in a lecture, “It is through appropriate work and activities that the character of the child is transformed. Work influences his development in the same way that food revives the vigor of a starving man. We observe that a child occupied with matters that awaken his interest seems to blossom, to expand, evincing undreamed character traits; his abilities give him great satisfaction, and he smiles with a sweet and joyous smile.” (San Remo Lectures, p. 28)

The more we can cultivate children’s efforts toward independence, to do real work, to become leaders, to teach and correct themselves, the more we can aid in their development of self-esteem, both at home and at school.  The researchers note that self-esteem is created by parents, and this is true.  But it can easily be strengthened, dramatically at times, in a Montessori classroom.  And just as this important research points out, the sooner children have the opportunity to build their self-worth, the stronger and more capable will they be today, as well as decades down the road.

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