I can recall one hot afternoon, where my eldest daughter came off the camp bus, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Mommy,” she said, wiping her eyes, “Today my friends told me that they aren’t my friends anymore. They said my glasses make my eyes look big.”
I (a bit reluctantly) pushed pause on my usual ‘getting-off-the bus-and-getting-ready-for-bed’ routine, and sat her and her two siblings down right on the porch. “Shayna,” I said, “You are an amazingly beautiful girl, inside and out, and you need to remember that you are special, no matter what other kids say. If I told you the sky was raining pickles (she laughed at that one), would it be true because I said so?” She shook her head no. “It’s the same for what other kids say.” Her eyes lit up with understanding at that moment, and I often refer to that example if one of my kids has trouble with someone being unkind.
As a mom, these kinds of situations feel heart-breaking! Part of me wanted to call up each parent, and have them apologize to my child. With a lot of strategies that I have put into daily life at home, my 3 kids have been making the connection that they are amazing, with strengths and areas of difficulty, where their self-worth does not depend on what others say (a concept that can be hard for me, at times, honestly!)
One fun example that we utilize is called our “Proud Board”. Each child has their own space on a magnetic white board, where they are able to put up work, art, and special notes that make them feel loved, special, and successful. I strategically placed this board in the kitchen, so it is viewed often. The sense of accomplishment each child feels when putting up a new piece (sometimes trying to pile one on top of the other, there are so many!), is priceless. I sometimes see my children, after feeling slighted for one reason or another, finding their way to the proud board and looking at their section, before rejoining in the family activities.
Another focal part of our home environment that is geared at improving my children’s self-esteem is our “Compliment Jar”. I have laminated and cut out different cards with varying confidence-boosting positive affirmations; examples are “You can do it!”, “You are special!”, and “Don’t give up when something is hard.” These cards are all placed in a clear jar right on my dining room table. If I see my children arguing, they have to give each other a card, as well as a compliment. Its not enough to say sorry and move on, giving that card is a good transition from a difficult moment, as well as a way to work through their own feelings while providing a confidence boost to the one they have upset. If I hear the words, “This is too hard for me”, I just say the word “Jar”, and they have to say that positive affirmation to themselves. I have caught my kids just taking a card when passing by the dining room, repeating the positive phrase to themselves with a secret smile.
The use of these strategies on a consistent basis can build up a child’s coping skills and confidence by adding to their internal tool bank; that is, they will store these affirmations into their mind and use them when they feel upset, the more consistently they are implemented throughout daily life.
Feeling happy and confident within themselves, even when the going gets tough, is such an important skill, which, honestly, will be continuously growing and changing throughout a child’s life. Building in these simple strategies can help provide an atmosphere of the “I can!” message into daily life, while slowly erasing the “I can’t”, can help lead to happier, resilient, and confident children.