Sandra Wheeler, manager at School House and the setting’s very experienced Special Educational Needs Coordinator shares her thoughts on how to promote self kindness, and therefore positive self esteem in our children 

When asking parents what attributes they want their child to have “kindness” is often a given. Adults spend a lot of time teaching their children to be kind and to have good manners: as parents we teach them to say please and thank you, to share toys and to have “kind hands”. However, we often assume that children innately know how to be kind to themselves and teaching self kindness is often overlooked. Covid 19 has highlighted more than ever, the need to look after and nourish our mental health as well as our physical health, and here Sandra shares her tips for promoting positive self esteem in our youngest of children:

  1. Teach children to think kindly about their bodies

Sometimes this issue is focused on older children, but it is never too early to point out to children how amazing and capable their little bodies are, especially if they are full of self doubt as to whether they can draw like their peers, climb like their buddies or run as fast as their siblings. Encouraging children to focus on what their bodies can do, such as see, hear, run, sing and hug is fundamentally important for their self esteem and sense of self worth. As adults, we need to be mindful of how we talk about and treat our own bodies in front of our children – are we setting them a good example? At Sunshines we include daily physical activity – whatever the weather – and this includes movement to music, climbing on apparatus, bikes and scooters in the garden, ball skills, obstacle courses and much more besides! This helps us to celebrate, and be mindful of, the numerous skills we are capable of.

2. Teach children to self nurture

Children love to take care of things and at Sunshines we encourage children to get involved with planting in our gardens, the allotment and in community spaces. We often link what we have planted to our regular cooking activities, such as making leek and potato soup after harvesting what we have grown. We also explore insect and animal habitats and what elements they need to survive. Through these experiences, we teach children the things that plants and animals need to grow and thrive: healthy food, water, fresh air, rest, relaxation and exercise. Teaching children that these things are important for their own well being too, is equally important.

3. Encourage children to talk kindly to and about themselves

When children join Sunshines, our first two weeks focus on an ‘All About Me’ topic – so that we can explore children’s home lives, the children can find out about each other, and we can celebrate the similarities and differences in our family cultures.  Encouraging children to say positive things about themselves and recognise their own and other’s achievements is really important. We regularly use books as a springboard for discussions, and stories such as ‘Time for a Hug’ help us to discuss self care, kindness and self esteem with the children. Alongside these provocations, we often provide open ended activities for the children to explore and enjoy using their creative skills, and at the end of these sessions adults support the children to reflect on what they have made or done with the resources and share their achievements with their friends. This ensures we are validating the children’s individual creativity, and encourages them to learn from each other and helps to support positive self esteem. 

4. Use mantras and sayings to support children to feel good

At each setting we have a dedicated area for promoting emotional literacy and helping children to notice and name their emotions. We use feelings thermometers, colours, photos and mirrors to help children to identify how they are feeling. At the beginning of each session we invite the children to explore how they are feeling and put their name next to an emotion. This helps staff to support children who aren’t feeling their best and to help children to help themselves and others as we explore ways that we can help each other to regulate our emotions. To enhance this area, and in light of recent training we attended, we will be adding positive affirmations and mantras for children to say to themselves whilst looking in mirrors, as a way to promote positive self belief and encourage self esteem.

5. Guide children to develop self kindness habits

Children, just like adults, need to take care of themselves first and foremost as, being full of self love, helps them to deal with life’s challenges. As adults, we know we cannot pour from an empty cup and it is the same for our children. The best way to guide children to look after themselves is to model self care and self kindness in action: we all need time to relax, to wind down, to talk over our worries and model our emotions is a positive way.  Meeting our own needs as adults or children is not being selfish, it is essential. If children see us taking care of our own needs and explaining to them what we are doing, it will encourage children to understand their own needs and to practise self kindness. 

For children, self kindness habits to help them to relax could be:

How can you help your child to be kinder to themselves today? Is there anything that you will change in your family to ensure everyone is being kinder to themselves? Remember that if you need any support with your child’s development, speak to your child’s key worker or see our Links Page for further advice