Health & Fitness

PE can help build a child's self-esteem

Our self-esteem is the armor we wear to face the challenges life throws at us every day. The beliefs and feelings that create self-esteem will influence us all our lives.

Try to remember the last time you felt really confident. Did you handle stress more gracefully? Were your behaviors different, more positive? Did you feel healthier? The answer is probably yes, says Jim Sears, a pediatrician at Tod Children's Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. "Healthy self-esteem provides a platform to develop the skills to achieve total wellness," he says.

As physical educators, our field allows us a vast opportunity to feed and nourish this particular aspect of health in students. We adhere to a standard adopted by the Wichita school district from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education:

"Students will exhibit a responsible and personal social behavior that respects self and others in a physical activity setting."

When teachers hold a class of students accountable for respecting each other, the result is that those same students also feel respected. This boosts confidence levels, leading them to experience a healthy self-esteem. There is a positive correlation between students' self-esteem and their levels of achievement. Healthy self-esteem allows children to perform to their potential.

Most people probably think that PE classes are competitive, with winners and non-winners, or even worse, athletes and non-athletes.

But new concepts for physical education support noncompetitive team-building and problem-solving activities designed to help students find their value within a team, regardless of their physical talents.

When a student feels valued, their self-esteem is nurtured in a healthy way and positive growth occurs.

As a physical educator, I strive to create an environment where students feel secure analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, with the goal of prospering. It's rewarding to see a child's self-image improve, and with that, improvements in things like grades, test scores and behavior.

Poor self-esteem in young adults can lead to poor decision-making skills. The chances of choosing to use drugs and alcohol are higher, as well as being more prone to depression.

Children with high self-esteem typically are optimistic, confident and independent. These traits allow them to make better decisions about social conflicts and challenges that often occur before, during and after school.

Parents and teachers share a responsibility to guide our youth toward happy and healthy lifestyles. Helping build a child's self-esteem is one of the most important things we can do to accomplish that.