When I was twelve, for a brief time my career ambition was to walk the streets. Things weren’t exactly great at home and I didn’t place a lot of value on myself. Having gone through puberty early, I was receiving sexualised attention from older males that I simply wasn’t equipped to handle. In my mixed up teen mind, I mistook this attention for the love I was craving. I was ripe for sexual exploitation.
Now, when I look back on my teenage years, I feel lucky. Not about the hard stuff that happened – but that worse didn’t happen. Fortunately, my basket of risk and protective factors had a few positives in it too. I was intelligent enough to be in the top sets at my comprehensive school so my peer group were generally less screwed up than me. I had middle class parents who, for all their faults, practised a baseline of supervision that kept me largely in sight in my most vulnerable years. And, despite a self-destructive streak a mile wide, I had a belief in happiness that was rooted in a carefree early childhood playing make-believe in a quiet country lane. Take just one of those elements away and I don’t think I would have made it. Somewhere, in a parallel universe is a me who ran into the wrong person and mistook grooming for love. Continue reading
Last week, one of the mums I was working with repeatedly burst into tears as she described her 8-year-old’s low self-esteem. He was reluctant to try anything new, gave up easily in the face of failure and struggled with friendships. She could already see him falling behind his potential and was scared for his future. As a mum, she felt utterly powerless in the face of his relentless negative thinking and no amount of praise or encouragement (or anything else) seemed to make any difference. It is an all too common story.
The Optimistic Child is a book which will give hope to parents of children with poor self-esteem.
Right from the start it makes crystal clear the links between pessimistic thinking and low self-esteem and it is packed with practical exercises for parents to use to recognise and tackle their child’s negative habits of mind. It is immensely readable, cogent, inspiring and practical. And most importantly, because it views pessimistic thinking as a ‘learned helplessness’ it offers the possibility that new ways of thinking can be taught. Continue reading
Grown-ups are really good at solving problems: we get a lot of practice! Just getting children out of the house in the morning – on time and with all the right equipment – is an epic feat of problem-solving ingenuity. I solved more problems before breakfast than I can count (many of them created by late night cereal-munching teenagers…).
Often, parents solve problems so fast we don’t realise there is a process involved: experience seems to lead us straight to the solution. In fact, all problems are solved with pretty much the same steps:
- We define the problem
- We come up with different solutions
- We evaluate those options
- We decide on the best solution
- We do it
- We look back and decide whether or not we chose the right solution (and adjust for next time if necessary)
Subconsciously, I equate food with love. As a result, I can take it too personally when my loved ones don’t want the food I provide, and I probably project that guilt onto them. I also sometimes use food for comfort, and I have been known to deny myself food as a form of self-harm. I once tried to set fire to a packet of biscuits to stop myself eating them all.
If you have a positive body image and an easy relationship with food then you are probably thinking that I’m a bit mental…
But in my experience, I’m pretty normal. Most of the mums I know or work with are at least a little bit screwy about food. And, hand on heart, the number of people I meet who are truly comfortable in their own bodies is a lot less than those who would rather their bodies were a bit (or a lot…) different.
Body image issues don’t only affect women and girls. Teenage boys are now under enormous pressure to conform to boy band ideals, and at a time when their bodies are in an awkward transitional phase. One third of men say they would give up a year of their lives to have the perfect body. Continue reading