I feel like a fairly passionate person. At least about some things. I think I'm passionate about theatre and movies and my family. But I'm also passionate about building self esteem in young people. Kids, pre-teens, teenagers.
It's important to me to have that in my life. The opportunity to say to someone "You really are special" and not sound like a Veggie Tale.
Perhaps the most important person I am saying that to right now is my daughter, Sophia. She really is special, but as she approaches the dreaded sixth grade year (my most challenging year as a child), I see her struggling with some of the same issues I struggled with.
Self-doubt and insecurity.
I'm sure there are moms out there with brilliantly well adjusted children who never question whether or not they're good enough/smart enough/pretty enough...but when those moms wake up from their delusions, I really don't want to be there.
The truth is, no matter HOW much you build up a child, there's always more building to do. It may seem like you're not getting through or they aren't listening to you, but I promise you they are. And even if they don't get it the first twelve times, maybe thirteen is your lucky number.
It's too risky not to keep trying.
So, because I'm list-girl, I've got a collection of
10 things you can do to build self esteem in a child, regardless of their age.
I've found it works especially well to start the process early and not beat yourself up when you see they need another pep talk.
Remember, you're sending them out there in the world everyday where the positive reinforcement gets harder to hear.
1. Teach her to celebrate her differences. Explain that God made her for a unique purpose and just because she may not be the best person to have on your "Zombie Tag" team, she could be the best person to lead worship in chapel. If YOU celebrate her uniqueness, then she will too.
2. As often as you can, tell her specifically what you love about her. I prefer to divide this into three areas:
- A physical feature
- An intellectual feature
- A talent/skill or ability
I've read that you should focus not on their physical appearance, but I think you have to include it. Let's face it, girls want to be told their pretty. That's just human nature. So tell her, specifically what about her is pretty...but back it up with what makes her pretty as a person. (She is kind. She is selfless. She is creative.)
3. Make HER tell you something she loves about herself in each category. When she gets down, a great way to build her back up is to guide her in the process of finding out what she loves about herself. She will feel like she's bragging. Explain to her that loving yourself isn't haughty as long as you stay humble. She needs to see the good inside her.
4. Give her a visual representation. Print a photo of her like this one:
Give her a Sharpie and let her highlight those things on her list. Hang it up somewhere for her to see it, like the bathroom mirror. Feel free to add the things you love too.
5. Talk to her about your own insecurities. For a long time, I thought it was best to pretend, but I've found that pretending is just phony and no one likes a phony. Be honest with her, but be positive. For instance, I might say, "I always hated that I had these hips..." but I'd follow it up with "Thank God I had them when I gave birth to a baby that was 10 lbs., 2 oz." Sometimes the very things we hate about our bodies are the things that serve a purpose.
6. Convince her to focus on what she can control. Sophia can get caught up in being the tall girl or the fact that certain clothes look better on her than others. She wants long, flowing curly locks. The sooner she can start accepting the things she has no control over, the better. It's taken me years to realize it really makes no sense to dwell on the fact that I have short legs.
7. Determine if she's frustrated because she wants to learn something. Is she frustrated because she's not good at something she can learn--and wants to learn? For instance, if all of the girls in her class are learning to play volleyball and she really thinks it looks fun, but the two times she tried she hasn't done very well, how can you help her? Can you sign her up for a camp? Can you give her a fighting chance? Show her you're on her side.
8. Make sure she sees the airbrushed pictures in magazines. Sophia is too young to read most of the magazines that are airbrushing actresses to look like plastic, but if she realizes now that the photos in those magazines aren't a true representation of real people, I think she'll walk into the next season with her eyes wide open, hopfully unwilling to compare herself to a fictitious representation. THIS LINK has some good examples of before and after pictures.
9. Talk about what makes her love someone. What things does she admire in her friends/teachers/family members? What does she want to be known for? Guide her so she focuses on kindness, skill, work ethic rather than the way someone looks. Then point out those things are all within her reach.
10. Explain how God sees her. It's hard to grasp this concept. I can say that because I'm still trying... but if we despise ourselves, it means we despise God's creation. He's an amazing artist who knew just what he was doing when he made her. Show her verses that prove it.