Components to Self-Esteem

Due to the title of the activity ‘Self-Esteem Mirror’ and the wording used on the sheet itself ‘Here’s what I see when I look at me’, children are likely to naturally look at their appearance first; then they may struggle. In this post, I’ve named some other areas of ourselves that impact our self-esteem, so you can help broaden their thinking and their self-awareness. Their answers are written in the speech bubbles and give you an idea (along with the conversation style of the activity) of how they are viewing themselves and areas you may choose to work on with them.

Appearance:

Literally holding a mirror up to them or getting them to stand in a full length mirror is a great idea for this. When you ask them what they see, pay attention to what they are drawn to and their language. Pick up on if it’s positive or negative. If it’s a negative comment, you don’t have to tell them it isn’t true (because this is their view therefore it is) but you can share how you feel about it i.e. ‘I feel sad about that, because when I look at your knees, I see strength - what would you do without them?’

There’s a deeper level to seeing too, I wonder if your children will access it on their own. They may not, so let me explain what I mean. Years ago, before we heard about mindfulness and what it means to really notice something, I was on a training course about attachment and we were given an activity to do with a partner. We were given an outline of an eye and asked to draw our partners pupil and iris, paying close attention to colour, patterns, blending, symmetry etc. The activity was very intimate which was it’s purpose but it meant we really had to look. You may notice small things about your child’s appearance that they have missed, share it with them i.e. the freckle that looks like a love heart or the birth mark in their hair line that reminds you of the day they were born. Encourage your children to really see their skin, their colour, their hair and their shape - in detail.

Some ideas for questions and phrasing (inc. possible answers they may write on their mirror):

  • What colour are your eyes? (blue) Just blue? I can see other colours in there and what about that really dark blue that outlines your iris - have you noticed that before?

    My eyes are blue like my Dad’s but I have a dark blue ring around mine and I like it”

  • What kind of smile do you have? How does your smile change your face?

    My smile wrinkles my noise and makes my whole face look happy”, “My smile is infectious because it’s so big”

  • You’ve always been so good at brushing your teeth since you were little, what are your thoughts about them?

    “I have strong, clean teeth that are great for chewing”

  • Would you say you were tall, small, short, medium, average height? (remember younger children often have an unrealistically positive view so may say taller because they feel good about that - that’s OK).

    I am as tall as my Mum, nearly”, “I am the tallest in my class, sometimes I like that because I have a great view but sometimes I can feel left out”.

  • What about your hands, what do you notice (i.e. long fingers, strong hands, good for climbing etc)?

    I have long fingers that would be good for playing a musical instrument”

  • What colour would you say your skin is? Is it the same all over? Do you like the colour?

    My skin is a yellow, brown colour which is different to most people I know, expect my family, and I like that I’m different”

Ability:

Having a good sense of what our strengths and weaknesses are is a strong element of self-esteem. Those who recognise that they have skill can often transfer ability and belief in themselves, to other areas of life. They are more likely to believe in themselves and not see failure (i.e. in a competition or sport) as being defining of themselves, but about the situation on the day. Having a sense that they have good ability in places means they less vulnerable to negative appraisal from others, as their internal structure is more robust with self belief.

Some ideas for questions and phrasing (inc. possible answers they may write on their mirror):

  • What sports do you enjoy? Which ones do you prefer not to play? (be curious about when they like one and not the other - is it because they are better at it? Tell them what you’ve notice and ask for their thoughts about it.)

    I like tennis because I am good at it”, “I’m not keen on hockey, it scares me a bit”

  • What do your teachers praise you for? How does that feel? Do you agree?

    I am good at Math”, “I am good at staying still”, “I am thoughtful”

  • Is there anything you’d like to try? What do these say about you; that your a fun-finder/laid-back/energetic?

    I am always looking for fun things to do”

  • What do your skills/what you’d like to try say about you; that you’ve got a lot of energy/that you’re very determined?

    I don’t give up easily”

  • What do you find challenging/hard? What does this say about you; that you would like more help/that you keep trying no matter what?

    I find it hard to get up in the morning”, “I’m a sleepy head”

Temperament:

This is a tough one to describe to children and young people, but encouraging them to consider their nature and behaviours towards other people, is a great way to get them seeing themselves as good people. If your child struggles in relationships, try and interpret what this means for them if they are saying negative things i.e. I’m nasty sometimes - you could say ‘I sometimes see that you have strong/confusing/mixed-up feelings when with friends/family, that it comes out as mean words, but you have a good heart and we can work on this together’.

Some ideas for questions and phrasing (inc. possible answers they may write on their mirror):

  • If you see someone crying, what do you/would you do? What does this say about you?

    I’m kind and thoughtful”, “I’m good at knowing when people are feeling sad”

  • Why do your friends pick you to be friends with?

    I’m funny”, “I generally get my friends together, I’m a good organiser”

  • If I was new at your school, why do you think you would make a good friend to me?

    I have a kind face and always say hi”, “I share my things if they’re not too special to me”

  • How do you treat animals? What does this say about you?

    I make sure I don’t scare animals by being too loud”, “I’m kind to animals like I am people”

  • How do you treat your sister/brother? What does this mean about you?

    If people are sad, I will always ask if they are OK”, “If people are stuck, I will try and help them”

  • How do you think your friends/I would describe you? Would you agree with that? How do you feel about yourself saying this stuff?

    I tell silly jokes that make people laugh”, “I can be moody sometimes but I always say sorry if I do something wrong”

Attitude/Mindset:

How do your children tackle life? If you haven’t read it yet, pop over and read What does it mean to be Resilient? where I discuss the positive and negative processes of the brain; it’s not a neurological blog, but it does highlight the benefits to seeing things positively.

Being able to see the positives in life experiences helps maintain motivation, if we’re always able to take something positive away, then there’s reason to keep going. Some of the questions mentioned so far can be used for this i.e. what do you find challenging/hard? as this can lead on to talking about mindset.

Some ideas for questions and phrasing (inc. possible answers they may write on their mirror):

  • Do you find all subjects easy at school? So what do you do when you find something hard? Sounds like you’re really good at asking for help, would you agree?

    I’m good at asking for help”, “I find things hard but I find a way”

  • What do you do when someone doesn’t want to play/hang out with you? Ah, OK, so you have lots of friends and it sounds like sometimes people need a bit of space and you’re OK with that, would you agree?

    I know people need their space and this feels OK to me”

  • What do you do when you don’t feel like being around people?

    “If I need space, I take it or ask for it”, “I don’t feel like I need to be around people all the time’, “Sometimes I like my own company”

  • How do you feel when someone beats you at a game or a competition?

    I know I can’t be good at everything”, “I’m happy for others when they do well”

Beliefs:

Our belief systems are a powerful force, how we believe the world works can be so powerful that it can dictate what we hear and see. You may notice this happen for yourself or with friends and family; the ability to filter out information that doesn’t fit for them, yet they’ll absorb what does fit, even if there’s no factual evidence for it. Our children do this too - if a child has low self-esteem, they don’t absorb the praise and love you give because it doesn’t fit the way they see their world, yet tell them off and they’ll use that (out of awareness) to reinforce their beliefs. Telling a child who has low self-esteem that they are amazing is too confrontational to their beliefs, it’s like trying the front door to find it’s locked, every time. What we need to do instead then, is go around the back, look for an open window somewhere, perhaps we have to climb the drain pipe and squeeze through the bathroom window; it’s more subtle, less confrontational but the message still enters.

You may have noticed in the questions and phrases I’ve been sharing above, that I often ask ‘what are your thoughts about that’ and ‘what does it say about you?’ - this is because they need to own the thought and feeling themselves if it is to impact their belief system and therefore their overall sense of self/self-esteem. Otherwise, it’s just your belief and it can be, will more than likely be (if they have low self-esteem) wrong. We can share what we see i.e. ‘I noticed how you’ve been working on that homework for the past two days, I really like your dedication’ but they need to see it themselves. Sharing what we see and feel from a place of ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ creates a safe distance for those who struggle to accept praise, they can hear it more easily. Sharing thoughts and feelings from ‘I’ consistently broaden’s their framework and get’s them thinking - I encourage you to do this.

The examples I have listed below are taken from a piece of theory in Transactional Analysis called Script - our beliefs about self, others and the world that we develop in order to survive and get our needs met. They are strong indicators of our ability to give ourselves permission and have entitlement. I focus on beliefs about self but it gives an insight too on how they view other people and then how they see themselves as a functioning person in the world.

Some ideas for questions and phrasing (inc. possible answers they may write on their mirror):

  • How important is having fun? Do you think you have enough fun in your life? What do you think stops you from having fun?

    I think working hard is important but so is having fun, fun helps me feel good and relaxed”

  • How do you know if you’re doing well at something, if you’re succeeding? Who is it that says if we’re doing well (me, you, others)?

    I think my opinion is important and sometimes it’s the only one that matters”, “I think that just because someone may not like what I’ve done, doesn’t mean it’s rubbish”, “I think I’m a good judge about my own effort and success”

  • Who’s point of view is more important in an argument? How come?

    I think it’s important to have respect for others and equally important to have respect for myself”, “I don’t think anyone is more important than the other, that we are equal”, “I think it’s important to hear other people’s opinions and that it’s OK if I disagree”

  • Is it OK to tell someone that what they did upset you or that you felt angry? How come?

    I think my feelings are important, because I’m important”, “I think it’s important for everyone to express how they feel so others know and can choose to do something about it if they want to”.

  • What would you do if someone said you needed to wear cooler clothes or dress a certain way?

    I don’t think it’s OK for anyone to tell me what to wear”, “I think we’re all different and that’s OK”, “I think I’m OK being me”.