We talk to coach Natalie Costa about building self-esteem in children and how affirmations can play a key role
Having worked in the mental health industry for nearly seven years and after suffering from mental health conditions myself in my early teens, I feel pretty confident when I say building self-esteem is not merely a nice-to-have in raising children. It’s a must.
Our early years mould and shape our self-esteem, for better or worse. If a child experiences abuse, trauma, bullying or overly critical authority figures, for example, their self-esteem can be hugely impacted. This can make them more susceptible to mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders as they get older.
This may all sound a little like scare-mongering, but I believe it’s important for us to understand the incredible impact we can have by helping young people develop self-esteem early. This is why I was so excited to talk to Natalie Costa, the coach behind Power Thoughts.
Natalie has over 10 years of experience in teaching and education and is acutely aware of the struggles both teachers and children can face. She’s seen the way children disengage in tasks when they believe it’s too challenging and noticed how anxious they become when overwhelmed with demands at school and in society.
Working with children, teachers and schools, Power Thoughts aims to empower kids to tap into the power of their own minds. Natalie recently partnered up with creative mentor Nicola Rae Wickham to create Power Cards. These affirmation cards are specifically designed for children to help them grow through their challenges and better understand their feelings.
I spoke to Natalie about self-esteem in young people, what affects it and how affirmations can help.
In your experience, what do you think affects children's self-esteem? Why do you think it's an area so many struggle with?
I think there are many things that affect self-esteem in children, but one thing that really stands out when I teach my sessions/talk to parents is that so many children are afraid of ‘failing’ or getting things wrong. They compare themselves to their peers and think that they are not ‘smart enough’, ‘fast enough’ or ‘good enough’.
For some, when they make a mistake or face a setback they almost seem to attach it to their self-worth and see it as a reflection of who they are. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many children also think that if they feel nervous or scared before trying something new, it’s a reflection that they are not ready - when actually, confidence is about taking action even though you feel scared and learning to grow through the uncomfortable feelings.
Can you tell us what prompted you to make affirmation cards for kids?
Nicola had already had loads of success with her ‘A Life More Inspired’ affirmation cards for adults. Many parents also shared that they used these cards with their children too.
Nicola would also use the cards with her daughter but felt that many of the affirmations were quite difficult to explain to children, yet the more simple ones were a great way of connecting with her daughter. We wanted to create something simple and easy to use but that helped parents support their children when it comes to their emotional and mental wellbeing.
I too wanted to create cards for children as I see regularly how powerful little shifts in perception can be for our children. We have also been friends for roughly three years and so it just felt like a natural next step for us to bring our skills together and create something really powerful that parents and children can use.
How can affirmations help kids build self-esteem?
The cards are divided into four themes - friendship, worry, feelings and confidence. They can be used when certain wobbles occur or at the start of each day to set a positive intention.
Through chatting about the affirmations and their meaning, children can start to develop their awareness when it comes to their feelings, thoughts and reactions.
It is also a great way for parents to connect with their children, talking about concepts that they may not always chat about in a day-to-day capacity.
The cards also allow for children to use them throughout the day, for example, ‘I can do tricky things’ - children can explore how many ‘tricky things’ they did that day. Reflecting on the tricky things they’ve overcome in the past in that way can help build their confidence and self-esteem.
Can you share three of your top tips for helping kids develop self-esteem?
- Celebrate mistakes and setbacks. Explore how they have helped your child grow and what have they learned from these challenges that have made them stronger.
- Practise self-compassion - and model this too as parents. Making mistakes and stumbling is only natural and having a kind, gentle tone with ourselves goes a long way.
- Explore all the unique qualities of being YOU. I find that many children sometimes shy away or doubt themselves too soon. ‘What makes me unique? What do I contribute to others that makes me special? And treating ourselves like we would treat our best friend too’.