Raising Girls – Raising Self Esteem
On the 1st July 2013 my beautiful daughter came into this world, screaming like a diva and perfect in every way. She was a complete surprise to me and my mother, who was at my side. I was convinced that she was a boy throughout my pregnancy, and when I had managed to find my glasses and realise she was a baby girl I was utterly shocked.
I wasn’t prepared for this news, and still, three years on, I look at her and have to pinch myself. I am so lucky to have two sons and a daughter in the middle. We are all extremely close, but there is something between myself and my daughter that is ever so slightly different to the relationship I have with my boys. I adore all of my children and I nurture them all, and try to give them everything they need. But with my daughter, there seems to be an extra bit of understanding between us, even at this very young age. It’s almost like we nurture each other.
I completely understand why she gets frustrated with things in her little pre-schooler life, why she shouts at her dad and her brothers, and I usually know what she’s going to do or say next. Equally, she is one step ahead of me most of the time. If we are doing an activity together, she is already passing me whatever I need before I ask for it. If I’m changing the baby’s nappy, she’s there with the wipes. If I’m looking for my shoes, she will find them. I hope that we remain this close forever, because it seems that there is a lot that she is going to have to deal with as she grows up.
As I look at the pouting, self deprecating pages of so many young girls across social media I am deeply worried about how these insane pressures to be thinner, prettier, and more pouty than the rest, will impact on my little girl. This is illustrated beautifully by Louisa Omielan in this clip on Youtube. ** Contains swears and nudity!**
I sincerely hope that my daughter takes up at least some of this attitude.
And yet as a woman I am not unfamiliar with those feelings of insecurity. I have spent a lot of my life wishing I looked more like a celebrity, or wishing I was more popular and successful, like other people. With advertising, TV, and the rise of social media, I now find I’m comparing myself to other parents and, as usual, often coming up short of my own expectations.
I think my saving grace as a parent has been my discovery of realistic parenting blogs by fabulous people like The Unmumsy Mum, Totes Innapropes, Part-Time working mum and Dadmum to name only a few. If it weren’t for these honest accounts of parenting I would once more be feeling like a failure.
As far as I know, there is nothing like this for young girls and teenagers, which makes me worry because I think that they need it just as much.
“Teenage angst” is not a new thing. I think we have all suffered with insecurities growing up, but it seems to be happening at a younger age now, with its effects on mental health worsening. It is widely agreed that social media, with its highly intrusive and addictive nature is linked to negative effects on our children. This is a hard pill to swallow, because I love social media, but I hope that I am old enough and wise enough to know that the photo shopped, airbrushed, filtered images I see are not real life.
So why am I writing this post? Why am I telling you things that you already know? Well, in my life before children (you know, when I had a career and a functioning brain), I was very fortunate to work in a multi-agency team with Social Services, Education and Child and Adolecent Mental Health (CAMHS) all working together…imagine! In this time I was often called into schools to offer support work and groups to girls in years 5 and 6 around their own self-esteem and their relationships with each other. Over time, with my team, we developed a range of activities to help explore these issues with children and I thought I might share a few with you in case you ever want to use them.
1. The Huge bag of worries, by Virginia Ironside and Frank Rodgers
Although this is a book aimed largely at younger children its concepts and ideas are a brilliant starting point for breaking down all of the worries that children have and ‘sharing’ them with the appropriate people. In the book the little girl gathers so many worries that she eventually can’t move. A lady helps her sort through the bag and gives the worries to the people who really need to deal with them. Some worries we all have, and the girl is allowed to keep those, but the rest she shares with others and feels better.
As an activity I would give each child a sheet of A4 paper and a bit of time to write or draw any worries that they had. I was amazed at how fast those sheets of paper filled up and how many children were able to fill both sides. Never assume that children are care free. There were worries about family, illness, divorce, finance, appearance, school, war, you name it, it was there.
Each child then worked through their list and considered who these worries should really belong to and either cut them out and put them in separate piles, or wrote lists. E.g.Finance worries belonged to their parents. School worries needed to be shared with school staff and so on.
I would often join in with these sessions myself (with appropriate worries!) to show that we all worry about things. It’s actually very therapeutic dividing up your worries. Have a go!
2. Colouring your emotions and where you feel them.
Again this was an activity devised for younger children that worked amazingly well with teenagers. You simply give the child an outline of a body, some pens, pencils or paints, and a list of emotions (Anger, joy, sadness, excitement etc). Ask them to choose a colour or pattern for each of these. and colour in where they feel that emotion.
With the teenagers, we drew around them or large sheets of paper and I gave them a tray of paints. They created some great pieces of artwork and the discussions that were had were extremely eye opening and a great starting point for other work.
Now, I would probably include in work like this, clips from the Disney Pixar film “Inside Out”. Another great way to understand emotions.
This gave me a really interesting insight into how young girls view themselves. Firstly I asked each girl to draw a picture or write a little bit about themselves and we talked about these and their own opinions of themselves, which sadly were often very low.
Next I gave them all photos of famous women who I found inspirational as well as some of the recent ‘celebs’. So I included people like the Queen and Kylie Minogue with very short hair after her treatment for breast cancer. I would now add Olympians like Rebecca Addlington and Laura Trott, and Paralympians such as Eleanor Simmonds.
I would give each child a scale line from 0-10 and ask them to stick each person on the scale where they felt they should be in terms of their own personal thoughts about them. I found that younger girls tend score someone’s looks far higher than their achievements, which in itself is interesting and another point for discussion.
When the children had added all of the famous people to their scale, I then asked them to add themselves to the scale. Initially, at the beginning of the activity, they would have placed themselves at the very low end of the scale, but often, by the end of the session, they will have decided that they don’t want to be a 1 (like the queen!) and they move themselves up the scale a little.
This activity can work well as a talking point for all of the things that make us special and successful as women, and it is designed to show young girls that there are more important things than the way we look. It also places them in the same realm as those people that they most admire and respect and highlights that really we are all just human.
I would like to add a little disclaimer at this point, that I am not a clinical therapist and if you are concerned about your child’s mental health please seek professional support. Here is a link to Young Minds, a charity who offer advice and support for children with all sorts of mental health concerns: http://www.youngminds.org.uk/
There is also a website called http://www.amightygirl.com/ which has lots of positive activities for girls to complete.
However, I am a mum who also happens to have 18 years’ experience of working with children and families and these ideas can be really good talking points that may start up conversations you never expected. Listen to your children carefully and maybe you can try to find solutions together.
And, in the words of Jerry Springer, “Take care of yourself, and each other”…