Ok, so the first question I would like to answer is a very common question that we are getting asked on our facebook page and via our website 🙂
How do you build self esteem and confidence in children?
There are so many different explanations and descriptions of what self esteem actually is and I am sure we would all have our own take on it, but its important to agree on what it is before I answer the question.
If a psychotherapy client asked me to help them get ‘more self esteem’ or ‘confidence’ I would ask them what this meant, and often they don’t really know. I would then ask them to describe how they will know when they have got there, and that when they are more confident, what will be different about them? Will they think or feel differently? So what would your answer be to this?
So, even with this bit of information it highlights, that we need to consider when we say we want to increase our child’s self esteem, firstly, what do we actually mean and how will we know when its happened. This is just something to be mindful of.
So what actually is self esteem, well the way I see it and understand it as a psychotherapist and as a mum is, to have self esteem, is to have a much stronger ‘sense of self’, knowing and understanding yourself and more importantly being ‘ok’ with it.
So if we translate this into developing our children’s self esteem we aim to give them a better understanding of themselves. A well known psychotherapist, Richard Erskine, talks about the four domains of the self which, in no particular order, are as follows;
*Physiological – Help your child listen to, and understand their bodies, and how this links into their feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
*Cognitive – Help your child understand their thinking, and how this triggers feelings, and then impacts on their behaviour.
*Affect – This is where the emotions come in to play and will help your child know what emotions are, and how to manage them.
*Behaviour – Last but by no means least, we will help your child understand all of the above and how this relates to their behaviour, and the impact this can have on others as well as themselves.
These are the four main principles, that all the exercises we do in our Healthy Minds Classes,(which are aimed at increasing self esteem in children) are based on, or certainly remain at the front of mind throughout. So if you consider the four main parts of ourselves and our children, these are a great starting point in order to develop our children’s self esteem. We need to educate and be mindful of all these parts of our self and focus on them when communicating and dealing with situations with our children, so that they become more aware of who they are, this then gives them the space to know themselves, and more importantly love who they are!
This might seem like a lot of information and then how do you actually put it into practice! If this seems overwhelming it may actually be that you don’t fully understand these four parts of yourself either, which I MUST add is not a criticism as most of us don’t! This doesn’t matter because you can also start to become more aware of yourself too whilst helping your children understand themselves.
Some children may know some parts of themselves really well and as a result this might be their preferred method of communicating, for example they may be very emotional without thinking things through much, or they may ask a lot of questions and do a lot of thinking but never show much emotion? Maybe your child cries and struggles to get the words out to say whats wrong? Maybe your child will relentlessly think and question you, never forgets anything that is said, but can express how they feel? Let me give you an example of a situation to make it a bit simpler…
Has your child ever said ‘I don’t feel well’, but you know that they are not unwell. Maybe its the first day back after the school holidays, or they are doing something at school that they are worried about?
It is likely that they do feel in some ways ‘unwell’, maybe they have butterflies in their tummy or they feel sick…they do not understand these feelings and they are not aware of how this also affects their body. They will not relate the feelings and how their body physically feels, to the thoughts in their head such as, ‘I don’t want to go back to school, I haven’t seen my friends for so long, maybe they won’t want to play with me now?’ ‘I would rather be at home with mum where I feel safe’…these thoughts will then lead to a reaction in their body and a feeling, and this may then result in them behaving a certain way, to act out as they feel overwhelmed and don’t really understand what is going on.
In this situation you could do some of the following;
*separate your feelings and ‘stuff’ from this whatever it is, maybe its late and you have had this story for three nights in a row and you are frustrated by it, separate it!
*think about the four separate domains as above and talk to them about each, so where in your body do you feel unwell? What’s it like? Tell mummy what you are thinking… Give them examples of when you have had butterflies and maybe not fully understood them until you have talked about it..
*normalise all the things that they say and validate that this happens to us all
*make sure when you take the time to talk about this with them that you actually have the time just to ‘be’ with it so that they do not start to explore it and it gets cut short
*do not expect to get a full and wonderful explanation from them! However the more you practice this, you will be surprised how emotionally literate they become!
I am aware that this ‘tip’ is much longer than I anticipated but I wanted to give it a good thorough explanation. I will add to this over the coming weeks and come up with some ways that you work on this…..equally if this triggers any thoughts or feelings for you then please let me know and ask away!