I remember being surprised (and maybe a little embarrassed) when I saw the documentary Waiting for Superman, when they described how Americans, although pretty far down on the rankings of competency in math and science, rank #1 in self esteem. We certainly think we are the best, even if we are far from it. I remember finding that to be....somewhat shameful. Especially as it was presented in the documentary, it made us seem arrogant and narcissistic, without the goods to back it up. While I do think that confidence is a crucial piece of success, one also needs to have a certain level of skill and competence to complete the picture.
However, after my work at camp, I am wondering - whose self esteem were they measuring and reporting in that documentary?
I ask this with a story in mind that has been haunting me over the last week. I had seen a cute activity online that I decided to do with my group at camp. (Remember that the majority of my kiddos are on the autism spectrum, or have severe ADHD or anxiety related issues). The activity was to read The Giving Tree out loud, and then have the kiddos think of a gift that they give the world to write down on an apple. Then I figured, we'd draw a big poster of a tree and post the apples on it to display in our classroom. I read the kids the book. Most of them were familiar with it and the idea that one should not be selfish or take too much from nature. They were less familiar with the concept that, even when we think we have nothing left to give (the stump at the end of the story), we may just be the very thing that someone needs. However, the second the words came out of my mouth that we were going to write down the gifts we give the world, one of my girls burst into tears. She was so convinced that she had nothing worthwhile to offer, this "assignment" made her overwhelmed and extremely upset. Another kiddo refused to write something down (even when given multiple suggestions) and became upset when I decided to write something down for him and post it anyway.
I was flabbergasted. Many of the children were able to write down something simple like "nice" or "kind" on their apples, but a few truly did not believe they had any positive qualities. It made me sad, and it made me remember to be compassionate. These kiddos may seem "oblivious" at times, but they certainly are not. They are often well-aware of how they are perceived by the world.
After some thinking, I decided to focus on affirmations in the next yoga class I taught as a sort of "antidote" to this negative thinking. We all shouted out that we are "joyful, truthful, loving, strong, and fun" while we did our yoga poses. I hope it helped, if in just a small, simple way. I hope they will learn that they have something meaningful to offer the world!