Healthy self-esteem is one of the most important well-being & personal development tools our children can ever learn to nurture.
You may have witnessed your child being hard on themselves and speaking in a way that tells us they are feeling like they don’t deserve respect and love and kindness. It can be heartbreaking to hear and all the positive words you can share of support and love are not enough for them to believe it. They have to feel it themselves.
Mindful awareness cultivates a sense of belonging and in turn improves self-esteem. Let’s start with the obvious: mindfulness helps you feel more connected to yourself. As you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, it becomes easier to identify what makes you happy, what makes you sad, what brings meaning into your life and what doesn’t. This can be incredibly empowering—it becomes easier to take responsibility for your own happiness and well-being rather than relying on others or external factors to provide them for you.
With this awareness you will have an improved relationship with yourself, friends, family & others in the broader world.
So how can you help your child by bringing mindfulness & mindful awareness into their daily routine:
1 .” Name it to tame it”
Dan Siegel coined the term and his studies have shown that naming the emotion and feelings attached can reduce anxiety by up to 50%. Dan Siegel: Name it to Tame it. Also building an emotional vocabulary will help your child understand themselves. Once you bring awareness to emotions self-criticism becomes more obvious and easier to tackle.
While it is difficult to hear your child say unkind things about themselves, it is always important to validate their words. Don’t tell them directly they are wrong and it’s not true, they have to figure that out with reflection time so that they truly believe it. Instead, gently ask them if their best friend said these negative things to themselves what would you tell them?…. This will generally lead your child to have empathy for said friend. Listening to their reply ask them can they imagine how they would feel if it was the other way round and their friend offered those kind words.
Potentially your child might still dismiss this but gently say there really should not be a difference..we all deserve kindness shown to us. This will open dialogue for a lovely conversation & in time more ease and acceptance of kindness towards themselves.
2. Accept Not all thoughts are true!
In Louise Shanaghers teaching she talks about our thoughts are like clouds that are only passing by. I think that is a beautiful way to visualise them. Ask your child to imagine the emotion visiting on a cloud as they are sitting watching as they pass. The idea that a cloud moves and passes by can bring some peace to your child that no feeling sticks. This will begin to allow your child to separate the thought from themselves, find some space and just let it pass by. While you will experience all your thoughts, you can learn by creating some space with mindfulness that they are often just stories we tell ourselves.
3. Tame your inner critic and find self-compassion.
These stories we tell ourselves that I mentioned above are our brain trying to keep us safe…a part of our brain called the amygdala which is in charge of stress response activates fight or flight and our inner mean voice is trying to stop us from getting harmed…unfortunately not always for the best!
In my classes, we focus on giving this inner mean voice a name so the children can visualise it (again similar to name it to tame it). Honestly the exercises I do for this inner mean voice work just as well for adults!
Back when we were cavemen, our brain evolved to have ways to tell us if we were in danger from lions etc …while we don’t need to worry about lions now, our brain still fears “the lion” so tells us stories to keep us safe.
4. Normalise all feelings visiting us.
Allowing your child to imagine characters visiting will help them visualize each emotion as separate. The movie Inside out does this beautifully with its characters.
It is so important that children know there is no bad feeling or emotion, just some feelings are uncomfortable when they visit. It is normal for us to experience a whole range of emotions every day. Just changing mindset and accepting all visiting emotions instead of pushing them away can be a powerful way to help a child build self esteem.
5. Common humanity
This is one I believe is a game changer when it comes to self-compassion. Simply knowing that you are not alone in these difficult emotions is unbelievably powerful for children and adults alike. If you feel comfortable share a time when you felt low self-esteem or struggled with a difficult emotion visiting. Acknowledge that we are all human and face similar struggles. Children want to fit in and not feel excluded or different so by learning that we all struggle from time to time will bring ease straight away. I find in my classes especially age 8 to 12 this is one of the biggest healing tools for children struggling with low self-esteem.
6. Use positive affirmations
In its simplest terms, our brains produce chemicals depending on which emotions we are feeling. Brain science shows Positive affirmations produce feel good chemicals .
Firstly this can feel very uncomfortable, unnatural and unbelievable to anyone who has low self esteem which will ironically produce the stress chemicals . Affirmations are really powerful but much easier for the person who isn’t struggling with low self-esteem. So little gentle tweaks can bring comfort to positive affirmations for anyone. So in the beginning start with
- I am unique and that makes me special
- I am surrounded by love
- I am lovable just as I am
- I am human…and its OK to make mistakes
These gentle and not too unnatural affirmations will build the positive self talk pathways in the brain and over time it will be more comfortable to say affirmations like
- I am amazing
- I am confident
- I believe in myself
- I love myself for who I am