Eshimwe Cynthia, a 12-year-old pupil, says she is always scared of answering questions in class especially when it requires her to walk to the front. This happens even when she knows the right answer. She thinks there is something wrong when everyone’s attention is on her.
Many times, some children fear to express themselves in public simply because they do not think whether what they will speak will make sense. To some, being weak academically or coming from less privileged backgrounds weighs them down, consequently affecting their overall performance. This, experts say is a result of a low self-esteem. Self-esteem is how one feels about oneself and how they judge their worth.
Causes of low self-esteem
According to Prof Dr Gustave Tombola, the deputy vice chancellor academics at the University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies, growing up in a culture whereby parents do not allow their children to speak out in public, and in schools, where children are not encouraged to speak out their mind causes low self esteem.
“Also, when students sometimes make fun of children with disability, it lowers their self-confidence since it makes them feel abnormal and isolated,” he says.
Jean Damascene Nsengimana, the deputy head teacher of Kimihurura Primary School in Kigali, says some children have a problem of expressing themselves because they think they are not good enough.
“This stems from the culture in many homes, where parents do not openly talk with their kids or teach their children how to behave, speak and communicate in the public. This leaves a child with no option but to shy away from the public,” he says.
For Jacqueline Iribagiza, a counsellor and a teacher, a child’s foundation is very important since it is at home that children need to be showered with love and affection first. The moment a child feels that they are not loved, they feel rejected, which lowers their self-esteem, she says.
“Lack of appreciation even when a child does something good compromises their self-esteem because they feel like perhaps their efforts are not required, which demoralizes them. Children need to be motivated in each and everything they do; even when they make mistakes it is better to advise and correct them with love, listen to what they have to say than just cursing them,” Iribagiza says.
She notes that when parents acting as negative role models to their children it ruins self-acceptance.
“For example, whenever a child sees her parents quarrel, fight or drunk, it traumatises them and makes them feel it is unworthy. This leaves them with no choice but keep to themselves since the people they thought they would look up to are turning out to be a negative force,” she says.
According to Collins Odhiambo, a teacher at Green Hills Academy, Kigali, poor parenting, for instance, where parents dictate to their children what course to pursue lowers their esteem.
Odhiambo also says unavailability of parents lowers children’s self-esteem.
“Since many parents have busy work schedules today, they have left the responsibility of raising their children to the house helps. In the process some get exposed to dangerous behaviour like drug abuse and pornography, and by the time parents realise, the children are already addicted to many weird behaviours which dulls their ability to stand with their heads high,” he says.
Peer pressure in a sense that children force themselves to live a life of other people just to fit in the group predisposes them to a low self-esteem, says Sarah Nakiberu, a teacher at Green Hills Academy.
“If all the group members wear short dresses, a child will also copy; if they eat expensively this child will try so hard to fit in even when he or she lacks enough money. The result is that a child learns to put up a show just to please the group members which kills even the little esteem this child could be having because he or she never gets a chance to be him or herself,” she says.
Nakiberu adds that teachers’ comments matter a lot in a child’s life.
“Each time a teacher tells children that they will never make it, it keeps running in their minds and even when they want to try doing something, they just give up because a teacher discouraged them at one moment,” she says.
Nakiberu says girls not getting involved in activities like sports, drama and debates affects their self-worth as they grow as they think these are a preserve for the boys.
For Frank Erasubiza, a primary six pupil, language barrier makes many children lose it all.
“Every time a child cannot articulate their ideas to the people around him or her, the person will feel neglected, hence tend to stay away from people.
“I had never lost confidence before my classmates until the day I was interviewed by some American visitors. I lost words since I was not sure whether I was to give the right response. I never even seemed to understand their accent and felt lost in the middle of the conversation. Such experiences can hurt a child’s self-esteem,” he says.
Francine Mukeshemana, a pupil of Kimihurura Primary School, says whenever a child does not get a chance to speak out their mind, it’s hard for teachers, parents and friends to help him or her.
“If a child is not helped they cannot succeed in life. So, teachers should be free and friendly with children so that they can open up and see how to help them in their weak areas, thus boosting their class performance and overall esteem,” he says.
How to tell a child has low self-esteem
Daniel Inshimemana, a teacher and parent, believes that whenever a child stays away from others, they are always shabby and never participate in class activities, then their self-worth is down.
Inshimemana adds that if a child starts absenting themselves from school without a reason or comes to class late more often, they could be having a confidence crisis.
Rachael Musiime, a resident of Remera, Kigali, says when a child is insecure about their body size they feel uncomfortable in public.
“For instance, fat and very tall children become timid since their classmates might think that they are too old for that class. For girls, if they grow breasts or experience menstruation periods at a young age, they feel uncomfortable believing that everyone is focusing on them hence leading to low self-belief,” she says.
Musiime adds that loss of parents, especially at a tender age, makes children suppose that they will not be cared for or loved the same way their parents did, which can hurt their esteem.
“Low self-esteem can lead to depression, where a child can end up not caring about themselves thus resorting to drug and alcohol abuse, which comes with negative health and social implications,” says Dr. Theodomir Sebazungu of University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK).
Nakiberu says low self esteem completely compromises a person’s thoughts, behaviour, and relationships.
How to boost self-esteem
Children ought to be trained both at home and school on how to associate with others. This helps them to learn from their colleagues how to speak and believe in themselves, says Nsengimana.
“Parents should show a good example to their children by loving each and everyone at home. This will plant in them a seed of love that they will even extend to their peers since the more children feel loved, the more their self-esteem increases and the happier they become,” Iribagiza says.
She also advises parents to always make fun, chat, pray and joke with their children as it will bring out the best in them.
“At school, teachers should mix the confident children with those who have low confidence in discussion and revision groups. This in due course rids the fearful ones of low self-esteem,” Inshimemana says.
He adds that every child should also be given an opportunity to contribute in class whether they have the right answer or not. The more often a child contributes in class, the more courageous he or she becomes.
Nakiberu says educators should encourage children to take part in sports, drama and debates since these activities teach them how to interact with others, speak out, overcome unnecessary fear and also help them discover their hidden talents.
For Odhiambo, parents and schools should groom children’s skills as a means of boosting their esteem. For example if a child is good at singing, dancing or debating, they should be supported to explore this on national and international platforms, which greatly boosts their esteem.
He adds that media should play a role by having programmes that teach children to believe in themselves, for example through drama, educative and informative shows.