Recently, a friend told me about her son’s reaction to someone commenting inappropriately about his Ichthyosis. She said it was not confident like it would have been a year ago. He looked down on the ground and said nothing. I felt sad for him – and could relate.
Sometimes it seems like the questions we receive about our visible difference can define us. They can make us feel worthless, that we’re no more than a red face, and they can make us feel tired – it’s relentless.
I suggested that she get her son to list all the great, fun and special things about himself, aside from his skin, so he has this list to remember when people question him.
Or better still, organise an after school play session with some of his friends and encourage them to create a collage featuring positive statements about each other.
When I mentored chronically ill young people at a hospital a few years ago, I received a ‘warm fuzzy’ after each camp. Each camp attendant did. Warm fuzzies are books featuring words and pictures from campers about the difference the warm fuzzy recipient made to them.
Camps were often emotional. The young people (and me included) challenged themselves to do physical and emotional activities – high rope climbing, rafting or song writing. Some of the young people were mobility impaired and modifications would be made for them to participate in the physical activities they wouldn’t usually be able to do outside this supervised, accessible environment. It was so wonderful seeing them achieve what seemed like the impossible – swinging on a flying fox or building a hut from scratch. And these achievements made everyone emotional – from the young people, the volunteers and the nurses and doctors who assisted at the camps.
So the messages in the warm fuzzies were often of awe – describing what it was like to see someone achieve a goal or push themselves. These messages remind us we can, when we think we can’t.
I treasure my warm fuzzy books – often reading them when I need a pick-me-up or remember that I’ve made a difference to someone. I know the young people I mentored value their warm fuzzies as much as I do.
Child behaviour consultant and researcher Nathalie Brown says, "Encouraging children to realise the good in themselves when they are different is 24/7. You need to build up their self-esteem as much as you possibly can.
"I love the warm and fuzzy book idea or you can create a book using a display folder that you add to every day. Each page is all about them, things that make them happy, activities they enjoy doing, a list of friends, games they like playing, my wonderful family, things I can do, things I would like to do and so on.
"You also have to speak to them about how others may perceive them as different – because they don’t know any better. And how it may make them feel sad when others say not so nice things or ask questions and how you will help them. The help can involve the school talking about differences and acceptance, talking to the other parents at school and how they can talk to their children about acceptance and kindness, encouraging play dates, finding children with differences to be pen pals with, joining a support group together. But most importantly, not losing sight that they are a child and children thrive on love, empathy and fun."
How do you build confidence in your children?
(This post was originally written for Kidspot.)