Just as children suffering from chronic hunger are listless, lethergic, unfocused and thus have grave difficulty attending to a school lesson, so do children suffering from chronically low self-esteem experience similar challenges. Just as poverty is toxic to the child's brain, flooding cerebral areas essential for learning with the stress hormone/neuro-chemical cortisol, so is diminshed self-worth toxic to the mind and heart of a child. In the former case, the child needs a healthy diet to replenish not only his energy reserves and physical functioning but also to restore his brain function. In the latter case, the child requires steady doses of value from a reliable source in order to eventually internalize that value and believe himself to be worthy of being taught and capable of learning.
Not only are healthy levels of self esteem crucial for learning but they also become strong defenses against the inevitable obstacles, setbacks, and failures children will experience in life. Problems are tough enough to face when you believe in yourself, they are virtually insurmountable when you doubt your own value and have not developed the inner toughness that whispers, "whatever comes my way, I can handle it!" A strong sense of value and dignity as a human being leads to the development of resilience, the seeds of which each of us is born with. Resilience is the capacity to bounce back following failure. It is also the ability to emerge stronger after exposure to adversity. People with poor self-esteem most often do not develop acorns of resilience into mighty, weathered oak trees because rather than bounce back following a challenge, they shrink back from it in the first place, terrified. Considering themselves to be far too fragile and unequal to the task, they learn to avoid dealing with problems head on. Unbeknowst to them, the great tragedy is that in avoiding problems, they also avoid growth. In turning tail when things get tough, they miss the fact that life is handing them a golden opportunity not to flounder, but to flourish. As the eminent author and psychiatrist Dr. M. Scott Peck writes in The Road Less Travelled, "problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually."