I’ve made no secret of how important mental health awareness is to us as a family, and from the 5th – 11th February it’s Children’s Mental Health Week.
Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity, is promoting the importance of “Being Ourselves”, with the aim of encouraging our children to celebrate their uniqueness. Too many children suffer from low self esteem from such a young age, and if nothing is done to combat that, what troubles will they be bringing with them into adulthood?
It’s made me think how we as parents can help our kids to see how special they are. To make them realise that every individual is extraordinary and full of potential.
I used to tease my youngest son because he does everything at snails speed. No matter the urgency, he will remain calm and take his time. This is particularly frustrating when trying to get him out the door to get to school!
I would regularly hear myself saying “c’mon Speedy” or “please, for the first time in your life, speed it up a bit”. I didn’t think anything of it until I heard him chatting with his brother. They were talking about how they would describe themselves and my sweet little man said “I’m slow”. I felt terrible. Not just because of the negative connotations the word slow has, but because he didn’t chose a positive way to describe himself. Worst of all, it was something I accused him of being all the time. Yet if you’d asked me how I would have described him there would have been a hundred words I’d have used before slow. Caring, kind, sweet, funny, affectionate, happy, gentle. Slow wouldn’t even have got a look in.
As sad as made me to hear him describe himself in this way, it made me think about the language I use when talking to him. I didn’t want him to think that’s how we see him. We need to realise what might have been a quick off hand comment, could really take up residence in our child’s mind. Being overly critical with them will ultimately lead to them being critical with themselves.
Find the positives.
There are definitely some things my children are better at than others. My eldest son enjoys maths and science and learning new facts. My youngest son is more artistic and could happily sit drawing and colouring for hours. Our daughter is a good at making a mess….!
It’s important to remind them what they are good at, especially when they are faced with a challenge that perhaps isn’t what they are particularly comfortable with.
My son really struggled with spellings at the start of last year. He would become overwhelmed during the tests and forget everything we had practised all week. The week of the first spellings tests he got 2/10. The next week he got 3/10 and felt very disheartened when some of his friends were getting full marks. He needed to be reminded that he was improving. I didn’t want him to start seeing spellings as the enemy. He just needed a bit of encouragement. He now regularly gets full marks but even when he doesn’t, we remind him the important things is always trying his best.
Heap on the praise
It goes without saying that we should congratulate our children when they have passed a test, or won a prize. However we also need to remember to praise the smaller accomplishments. Whether it’s cleaning their dishes away without being asked, or completing a book or drawing a picture, I try to make a fuss of the small things. Our fridge is covered in drawings, pictures, and lunch time awards, hopefully all serving as a reminder of how loved they are and how proud we are of them.
Try not to compare.
It’s so easy to compare your child with other children, especially if they have siblings or friends of the same age. I was guilty of this, especially when my boys were younger. Despite being close in age and both of the same gender, our boys couldn’t be more different. I would wonder why my younger son wasn’t hitting his milestones as quickly as his brother. I quickly learnt they are two completely different people and to compare them could be damaging to their self esteem.
We need to focus on their individual strengths. Remind them why they are unique. It doesn’t matter how their classmates did in a test, only how they did. It doesn’t matter when anyone else was walking, or talking or what age they were potty trained. Life is a journey, not a competition and the sooner we can teach this to our children the better.
Encourage them to talk
It may be too early to comment, but my soon to be three year old daughter has no problem telling us how she feels. Sad, happy, tired, upset – she lets us know about it. The boys by comparison are relatively more reserved. Boys in particular need to be encouraged to speak out if they are upset. None of this “boys don’t cry” or “man up” nonsense. They need to know their feelings are valid and not to be dismissed.
My eldest son bottles up his emotions and we frequently have to draw out of him how he is feeling. When he does we ensure we really listen. He needs to know we have always got his back, and he can tell us absolutely anything.
Being different is the same as being special
It’s hard to stand out as a child, especially when you’re desperate just to fit in. We need to remind them that being different really isn’t a negative thing.
Both my sons are small with red hair and I have been worried that they may be targeted because of it. My son suddenly took to walking around permanently with his hood up. I tentatively asked him whether anyone ever commented on his hair and he happily told me he liked having red hair. It meant he was special. Quite right! I was so pleased and it shows he has obviously been listening to what we tell him!
There are so many ways we can hope build a child’s self esteem. Play2be are hoping to get #BeOurselves recognised by as many people as possible this week. Please help to spread the word!