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September 23, 2022

Man looking at reflection in mirror that is laying on the groundComparing yourself to others is, unfortunately, human nature. Often, we do it without even noticing. But when we do it in front of children, they notice. That’s because children are like sponges — they tend to soak up behaviors, attitudes, and ways of thinking. Imagine what may happen in the mind of a child when their adult role models openly criticize themselves. The child may wonder: “If they don’t believe they’re enough, should I be worried about how I perceive myself?”

One of this month’s Creative Program Ideas is to offer students a dedicated day (October 19, to be exact) to evaluate their life. Evaluate Your Life Day was inspired by a model of social behavior called Self-Evaluation Maintenance. This model suggests that if students have close friends or family members who “outperform” them in an area students don’t particularly pride themselves in, that connection boosts their self-esteem. But if a friend or family member outperforms a student in an area that matters a lot to the student — like skills in sports or the arts, or even attractiveness — then that relationship may take away from their self-esteem.

In other words, the Self-Evaluation Maintenance model suggests that a child’s self-evaluation is constantly interacting with how others close to them perform. That means each child’s identity and sense of self can be affected by how their peers perform.

What can your out-of-school time program do to help students find healthy ways to negotiate the natural human tendency to compare themselves to others? Here are some ideas.

All for One and One for All

To make sure that all your students feel like their success is possible, they must first feel like their voice matters. It’s important to incorporate regular self-reflection in a way that deters negative comparison. Y4Y’s Student Voice and Choice course takes a deep dive into maximizing student engagement and equipping staff with the tools they need to encourage a healthy self-image. When students feel heard, their confidence grows, and they’re more likely to develop a strong sense of self. You can nurture this strong sense of self by:

  • Assessing student needs
  • Conducting student interest surveys
  • Encouraging goal setting
  • Prioritizing student self-reflection

Setting the Scene for Reflection and Growth

Just as incorporating student voice and choice nurtures a healthy self-image, it’s also important to make sure your learning environment cultivates constructive attitudes. Creating a positive learning environment will, in turn, give your staff and students the setting they need to have open and honest conversations about self-reflection and self-love. The strategies in Y4Y’s Creating a Positive Learning Environment course can help your staff to create a safe space where students and families feel supported. Students in an open and positive environment are more likely to be supportive of each other. In fact, learning to celebrate one another’s successes is a great way to stop the “comparison habit” in its tracks.

When program staff members build positive relationships with and among students and create a nurturing environment where each student feels seen and heard, it sets the stage for students to discover their own strengths. Further, a safe, nurturing environment provides opportunities for them to develop those strengths. This is the path to establishing a generation of students with a healthy self-image and a productive attitude.

You can guide students along this path by teaching them that self-reflection is best practiced through a lens of positivity and self-compassion rather than constant comparison. Make sure your students appreciate that they are only ever striving to be their best selves.