The Lost Child

The Lost Child

Parents are often unsure of how to deal with a withdrawn child, or unable to explain why a child fails to achieve the expected academic results despite a lot of help and tuition.

The road through parenthood is paved with good intentions, and well signposted with good advice. Despite this, parents facing a child that is unhappy, uncommunicative, withdrawn, and not achieving the academic results they are capable of are left lost and not knowing which way to turn. None of the signposts offer any help. They have an intuition that something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is and the child isn’t telling them.

What’s Going on?

A withdrawn, uncommunicative child is displaying several symptoms of low self-esteem. Internally, the child will be feeling fear and anxiety, be reluctant to share thoughts and opinions for fear of making themselves look foolish, and for the same reasons may be unwilling to try new things. They may be lacking the emotional intelligence to deal with negative feelings such as frustration, instead giving up easily or waiting for somebody else to take over, and they are likely overly critical of and easily disappointed in themselves.

Externally, they will be lacking social intelligence, and have poor relationship and social skills. As a result, they avoid social situations, reducing further their opportunities to develop these skills. When they do find themselves in a social situation, at school for example, because those with low self-esteem tend to be suspicious and distrusting they react in ways that confuse and alienate other children. This lack of social intelligence means they also lack normal boundaries on their behaviour, so they tolerate inappropriate behaviour in others, or they may act out themselves with abusive, insensitive, or demanding behaviour, and have no respect the space, differing interests, or individual needs of others.

Poor Coping Skills

A child with low esteem will develop some coping strategies. Some examples of these are quitting from activities, offering an excuse such as ‘the game is boring’ or ‘the work is pointless’ or avoiding activities all together. This is a similar strategy to quitting, but while in quitting the child has begun the task and leaves halfway through, avoiding is when the child refuses to engage in the task at all through fear that they will embarrass themselves. Some children hide their lack of confidence by clowning, acting silly, or fooling around, or by being controlling; if they believe they lack control over their lives, and in response try to take command of other children and become dictatorial. Aggression or bullying is another sign, where children engage in scapegoating so they do not have to face their own issues of low self-esteem. Another is denying; a strategy to avoid the pain that might result if they have to face their insecurities. They may deny that they are worried about a school assignment for instance, or that they did not do their homework. In some cases the child may even become self-sabotaging, repeatedly acting ways that are not in their own best interest.

The result of all this is that the child can get stuck in a behavioural cycle. Low self-esteem affects their behaviour. Their behaviour affects the way others respond to them. The way others respond to them affects their self-esteem. It becomes a vicious cycle: low self-esteem invites a negative response that reinforces the low self-esteem.

As low self-esteem always forms in childhood, when views of self are forming, it is important that parents spot these signs and address the problem early. Low self-esteem is actually a thinking disorder in which a child views himself as inadequate, unworthy, unlovable, and/or incompetent, so you cannot merely “raise” their low self-esteem; they have to learn to alter their basic view of self, and change both their thinking and their attitudes. This is not a simple process, nor a quick fix. That behavioural cycle is hard to break.

What Parents can DO

As the child is damaging himself with poor coping strategies, to deal with it the parents need to actively provide better ones, improving their childs emotional intelligence to enable them to deal with their negative feelings, and help them to communicate.

Teach your child to solve problems and make decisions. High self-esteem and emotional resilience are founded on the belief that we have control over our life. If your children are to develop this sense of control, they must learn problem-solving and decision-making skills early in life. It is impossible for a child who lacks these skills to feel in control.

Help them to learn from, rather than be defeated by, mistakes. All children, and indeed most adults, are concerned about making mistakes and looking foolish. Children with high self-esteem can view mistakes as learning experiences, while children with low self-esteem view mistakes as things they cannot change, This is why they quite or avoid tasks. To raise resilient children, it is essential to encourage a positive attitude towards mistakes.

Teach your child to handle their emotions. We tend to avoid teaching children how to handle difficult emotions, but teaching them this results in compassionate children who grow into compassionate adults. Explain to them that there will be times when they may feel as if no one likes them or that they can do nothing right, but everyone feels as if others don’t like them sometimes, and that when they feel this way it is the time to find someone to talk to

Communicate with your child. When children can’t or won’t discuss their issues, try talking about your own concerns. This shows that you are willing to tackle tough topics, you are available to talk with them when they’re ready, and provides a good role model for them to emulate.

Everybody finds it difficult to state their feelings directly since we all, adult and child alike, have a tendency to overcomplicate how we feel and/or blame another person. A frightened passenger in a car is more likely to say ‘You’re driving a bit fast, aren’t you?’ which is an indirect way of saying ‘please slow down’ or ‘You’re driving like a maniac’ which is blaming the driver, rather than directly speaking about their own feelings by saying directly ‘I am scared’. If it is difficult for an adult to do this, it is clearly much more difficult for a child. You can help them by teaching them the vocabulary of emotions, making it easier for them to express their own emotions.

Preventive Measures

Preventative steps revolve around encouraging the emotional intelligence your child needs.

Think about what you say. Children are very sensitive to their parents’ words, so make a point of praising effort and completion as well as results. This works because effort is something your child can control, but results are not.

Take a look at yourself, your own behaviour, and ensure that you are a positive role model. If you have low self-esteem, and are harsh on yourself, or overly pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities, your child will learn this behaviour from you.

Be spontaneous with your affections. Give hugs and tell children you’re proud of them. Give them praise frequently and honestly, but without overdoing it: children can tell whether something comes from the heart.

Create a safe, loving, home environment. Children who don’t feel that their home is a permanent safe haven are prone to suffering from low self-esteem. This includes not being exposed to parents who fight and argue a lot. If you are unable to control your own feelings and emotions, your child will not learn to control theirs.

Encourage constructive experiences, especially activities that encourage co-operation rather than competition. These are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem, as they help your child to develop the social intelligence needed to handle relationships effectively.

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