Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

Tag Archive: mental health

9 ways to help build kids’ self-esteem

Yesterday I participated in a Twitter chat with one of my favorite sites, UpWorthy. The topic was parenting and raising good citizens and our concerns about both. Towards the end of the chat, I became involved in a discussion with some of the other participants about giving kids good self-esteem. She mentioned that she has an exercise that she’s done with her own sons–writing a list of 10 things they like about themselves–and has done with elementary school classrooms as well.

sharkThen she said that when she did the exercise with a class of third graders, there were some kids who could not think of one part of themselves they liked. This was a direct result of what the adults in their lives say to them or what they hear the adults in their lives say about them.

Take a minute to let that sink in. Eight and nine year old CHILDREN could not think of anything good about themselves because of the impact the adults in their lives had on them. That’s the power adults have. We have to power to make kids feel like they don’t matter, like they’re unimportant and that they have no good qualities. We have the power to destroy their self-esteem.

But we also have the power to do the opposite. We have the power to build them up and make them feel good; like they can conquer anything. We have the power to make them realize just how important they are–important to themselves, to us, to the world as a whole. And it doesn’t take a ton of time or effort. Or even money. Just doing some of the following:

  1. Praise them. Even if you think it’s for something mundane like homework or chores, tell them they did a good job. 
  2. Be present. Show up for a sports game or a music concert or if your kids are younger, offer to volunteer for an hour in the classroom or chaperone a school field trip. Your presence makes a huge difference to a kid, whether he admits it or not (and even if he says he’s embarrassed).
  3. Ask about their day. It doesn’t matter if it’s during dinner or at 5:00 the next morning when you’re both getting ready for school or work. Take 5 minutes and ask if they’re nervous for the test or if they have plans after school or who they sat with at lunch.
  4. Be involved. Not helicopter, hovering parent involved. But knowing what classes your kid is taking or who their friends are or even what music they like to listen to is being involved and shows that you care. Kids like it when parents pay attention.
  5. Show affection. It can be a hug, a high five, a smile…pretty much anything (obviously the level and type of affection will depend on the nature of your relationship).
  6. Offer encouragement. Tell the child you believe in him. Support his efforts. Be there to say “keep going. I know you can do it!” And do this unconditionally, even if his choices are not what you would have necessarily made for him (unless those choices are dangerous and/or criminal and/or self-destructive).
  7. Set them up to succeed. Play to their strengths, not their weaknesses (and for the love of all that is holy, never tell a kid “you’re not any good at that”). It’s like this quote:einstein fish quote
  8. Offer nice words. Kids want to hear people say nice things to them. Positive reinforcement is good. “I’m proud of you” goes a long way. Try to say at least one kind, positive sentence a day. And don’t always make it about their appearance. They need to understand that their self-worth is not always related to how they look.
  9. Include them in conversations about them. This is particularly important for older kids. If you’re at a meeting with a teacher, coach, school counselor, probation officer, or anyone else, and the kid is present, include them in the conversation. Ask her questions and ask for her input. Don’t talk about her like she’s not there. She is and she can hear everything you say. So choose your words carefully.

Now, we need to note that as parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, whatevers, we can do all of this and a kid can still turn out with low self-esteem. Peers can play a huge part in that, and, in that case, all we can do is provide a safe place for them to turn and for us to tell them what their classmates say isn’t not true. Unfortunately, we can’t make the kid believe us over their peers. But we sure as hell can try. And we sure as hell need to.

A few thoughts on grieving and depression

Last week, in what I assume was an attempt to comment on the death of Cory Monteith, a woman I know commented on Facebook that the only deaths we should mourn are the unpreventable ones like murder, illness, and the like. That's right. She feels that those who die from a drug overdose, suicide, or anything that she's decided is preventable should not be mourned. Not by their families, friends, co-workers or anyone else. Because it was their choice to die.

It took every ounce of self-control I have not to tell her how I really feel. Because how dare she state that people like my next-door neighbor–a father, former public school teacher, and Afghan war vet who killed himself 2 months ago–do not deserve to be mourned. Or the middle and high school kids who can no longer stand the incessant bullying and can't see it ever getting better so they commit suicide. Or the addicts who are so deep into their addiction that their last high kills them.

They do deserve to be mourned. They deserve to be mourned because they lived. They deserve to be mourned because they were loved. They deserve to be mourned because mental illness and addiction are horrible diseases that, when you're in the throes, have such a stranglehold you begin to feel like a hostage. They deserve to be mourned because often, the problem is so deep and the affected suffers in silence because they just don't feel like anyone will understand. They deserve to be mourned because, as a society, we're so quick to dismiss mental illness. Particularly depression.

Don't believe me? Here's a smattering of what I was told when I was in the thick of mine:

“You need to learn to live with it and get back to work.”

“You can be happy if you really want to.”

“Everyone has depression. You're not any different.”

“You can get up and out of bed every day. It must not be that bad.”

“I known exactly how you feel.”

Some of those were said to me by medical professionals. I'll let you decide which ones. And because medical professionals have this attitude towards depression and other mental illnesses, it's no wonder so many people go untreated (those who are medicated or over-medicated or self-diagnosed or whatever is a totally separate discussion).

It doesn't help that well meaning “experts” and bloggers have permeated our culture with self-help books and blog posts and inspirational quotes telling us that depression really is just something we can cure if we want to. These individuals make us feel like it's a character flaw; that we're deficient in self-esteem or have some other weakness that causes depression. It's somehow our fault that we feel this way.

Bull shit. No one asks to be depressed–and I'm not just talking blue, I'm talking depressed (and to the lady shopping at The Body Shop who professed that she was depressed over the fact that the mall has a Cheesecake Factory and she had eaten elsewhere, I want to say, to paraphrase Fat Amy, not a good enough reason to use “depressed”)–because it. Is. The. Worst. It sucks to cry for no reason. It sucks to have zero motivation for anything. It sucks to feel unloved. It sucks to stop enjoying everything you once did. It sucks to be unable to laugh or feel most emotion except excessive sadness. It sucks to live in your own head, listening to the chorus of voices telling you that you don't matter (I've written before about what my depression looks like. Please read it if you have a chance).

And that? Is not easy to just “get over”. Because if it were, I, and so many others, would do just that. We'd put all the horrifying feelings and misery behind us and move on. We'd magically smile and laugh and start loving life again. It'd be easy to take a shower or walk the dog or go to work or do anything that's not sit on a couch or curl up in our beds, blocking out everything. Please realize this–even if a depressed person is engaging in those activities, it's exhausting for us. It takes every ounce of strength to feign acting normal and, when that's over, we're back in our pajamas, in the same corner on the couch. Because we don't know what else to do.

Depression isn't a choice. Who would choose to live in a perpetual state of numbness and sadness? No, depression is a disease. It's a chemical imbalance. And it's fucking torture. And it breaks my heart that so many people are suffering from this personal hell and the only escape they feel they have is suicide.

So to the Facebook woman, I say this–fuck you. If you don't want to mourn a celebrity who died of an overdose, then don't. But to say that anyone who dies from a reason you deem unacceptable doesn't deserve to be mourned shows what a compassionless asshole you actually are. And I hope you never know what it's like to have or love someone who has a mental illness or addiction. Because I can't imagine what you'd say then.


Managing money and mental illness

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV or anywhere else. The advice in this post is based on my experience and my experience alone. If you are struggling with mental illness, please see a mental health professional or your family doctor for expert, professional help.

Up until a few months ago, I was ashamed to admit that I have a mental illness. The stigma that comes along with it, and the looks of pity, concern, and fear from others, just wasn’t worth the disclosure. So I kept it to myself. Although looking back, I probably did a pretty poor job of hiding it. Anyone close to me knew something was wrong and I’m pretty sure strangers thought I was just a basketcase. I was like the kid wearing a sheet and telling people I’m a ghost; everyone knew I was lying, they were just too polite to say anything.

But now, thanks to an amazing support system, I’m fine with telling people what’s wrong with me. Why? Because I’ve decided there’s no shame in it. I can’t help what’s wrong with me. I liken it to my gestational diabetes. I did everything I could to prevent it but my body didn’t care. It was going to give me the disease regardless of my efforts. My depression and anxiety are the same way. And there’s no reason to be ashamed of something I can’t control. Besides, there are so many people like me that it’s almost the new normal to be completely fucked up.

Anyway, as a result of my therapy, I’m working on new behaviors to try, particularly when I’m anxious. I’ve talked about my distractablity list before. Let me tell you, that list, combined with my meds, have done wonders to calm me down. It’s also worked to help change some of my financial behaviors as well. You see, when I was in the darkest part of all of this, my finances almost crashed and burned. I forgot to pay some bills, couldn’t stay organized, almost overdrew my account due to lack of attention to my checking account, and a whole host of other problems. It was ugly. And, as a financial writer, it was embarrassing.