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Building self esteem in child and teenagers to promote positive mental health




Often when teenagers seek counselling for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety a driving factor in their difficulties is low self esteem. Low self esteem can effect confidence and hold individuals back from living life to their full potential.


Self esteem is an individuals ‘self worth’ based on their evaluation of how they believe others see them and their own sometimes unhelpful beliefs about themselves which result in negative self talk.


To tackle low self esteem we firstly need to identify a clients negative core beliefs. Core beliefs are often unconscious and something that is accepted without question. They develop through childhood, life events and experiences. Some example of negative core beliefs are; ‘I’m not loveable’, ‘I’m useless’, ‘I’m boring’. The aim is to identify the source of these core beliefs and bring them into awareness.


Once we have identified a persons core beliefs, we can take a cognitive

behavioural therapy (CBT) approach to identify how these thoughts impact on their feelings and behaviours.


Firstly we identify thoughts and then ask the question ‘is this thought helpful’? If the thought is not helpful, such as ‘I’m useless’ we then work together at understanding the relationship with the core belief and then identity evidence that tells the client their thought is not true.


We will also identify and challenge unhelpful thinking styles such as ‘over exaggerating’ where we use language such as; always, never, everyone. An example of an unhelpful over exaggerated thought might be, ‘I always mess up, everyone thinks I’m useless’.


Psychoeducation is always an important part of any counselling or therapy as it helps individuals to understand the way the mind works and how this can impact on the way we feel. With low self esteem it’s helpful to educate the client or your teen that the mind has evolved to think negatively.

Our predecessors from millions of years ago relied on the mind to keep it safe from dangerous predators. The human mind needed to be on high alert to identify everything that could go wrong. Our mind has not evolved in line with the challenges of modern day life, it still works to keep us safe but now has much more to worry about than just wild animals. This is why the mind will often identify the negatives of a situation before the positives.



As parents it’s helpful to educate children to start recognising times when the mind is just doing it’s job, but is actually being unhelpful. ‘I might mess up, ‘everyone will laugh at me’, ‘what if I get lost’. We want to empower young people by helping them to increase awareness of this unhelpful negative self talk and teach them skills to challenge their own thinking.


We want them to recognise the unhelpful negative thought ‘I always mess up, everyone thinks I’m useless’ and instead practice helpful thoughts such as, ‘there are things I could do differently but it’s good enough for now and I have learnt a lot in the process’.


Once we have taught our children and teens the art of recognising and challenging negative self talk we then want to educate them about self compassion. This is about speaking to yourself with love, respect and kindness. It’s about learning to be your own best friend.


Ask your teen, ‘if you’re going through a tough time what kind of friend do you want by your side’? The kind of friend who constantly picks on you, and puts you down, or one that has your back and constantly praises and encourages you?



How you speak to yourself in your head is really important for good mental health.

If you’ve ever come across a bully think about the way they spoke to you and how they made you feel. Then image having to live with that person 24 hours a day, everyday constantly pick on you. How might you feel? Worthless, full of self doubt, depressed, anxious.



The brain reacts to an internal bully the same way as it does to an external bully, so if you speak to yourself as a bully you’ll have the same impact on your mental health as you would if you had a bully following you around constantly.


We need to be kind to ourselves all the time, not just when we think we deserve it otherwise it’s a little like only watering a plant when it flowers.


Self compassion is not indulgent or egotistical, it’s a skill needed to maintain good mental health so you are able to grow and flourish. It’s a life practice that involves recognition of our oneness with humanity, and an acknowledgement that like every other person on Earth, we are imperfect but good enough.


Some young people find creative journal writing a positive way to build self esteem. The journal can include; positive quotes, affirmation, examples of when they have felt empowered, loved or proud.


A good exercise with younger children is to make positive thought cards. Take a piece of card and divide it into 8 boxes. Get your child to come up with some positive thoughts and then write these on the card. Laminate and cut into the 8 cards. Put a small hole through the corner of the cards and attach them to a key ring. This can be slipped into a pencil case or school bag for reference at any time.


To summarise


1) Identify negative core beliefs.


2) Through pychoeducation understand how thoughts impact on our feelings and behaviours and why the mind defaults to think negatively. This is really helpful video created by Russ Harris called evolution of the human mind.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv6HkipQcfA


3) Indentify unhelpful thinking styles and challenge negative thinking.


4) Practice self compassion, learn to be your own best friend.


5) Use practice tools to increase self esteem such as journal writing.







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