Self-Esteem Part 6: Helping your child to make a difference

This is the final part of a six-part series, on how to promote positive self-esteem, emotional wellbeing and confidence in children.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”
George Bernard Shaw

As a mental health professional I have always been a big advocate of supporting people in groups rather than just on an individual basis. Aside from the extra support and understanding people gain from being part of a therapeutic group, such groups also give people the opportunity to take on a helping role of their own.

One of the main benefits of being part of a group is that you have the opportunity to help others as well as being helped yourself. Paradoxically, it is by being in the altruistic role of helper or supporter that a person often gains the most benefits.

The benefits of helping others are backed up by many research studies that evaluate the outcomes of mental health therapeutic groups. For example, in the self-help group movement it is the group members who take on the role of leaders or of sponsors and mentors to other people in distress who achieve the best long-term outcomes. The role of helping others is not only beneficial to the people we help but also to our own mental health and sense of wellbeing.

The power of making a contribution and helping others is as true for children and young people as it is for adults. In fact, it can be more so for young teenagers who as part of their adolescence are developing their own sense of justice and a spirit of altruism.

From a young age, a very important way you can build your child’s confidence and self-worth is to help them get involved in socially meaningful activities that benefit others and make a difference in the community.

This can start with encouraging small children to help in the home, care for a sibling, visit elderly neighbours or to donate some of their toys to charity. Older children can be encouraged to take on volunteering roles such as fundraising for a charity by doing a sponsored walk, having a bake sale or packing bags in a supermarket. Teenagers can be encouraged to become a leader or tutor with children in a community club or join a campaign for positive change in their community. Remember, the benefits in being involved in these projects are as much for them as for the worthy causes in which they are involved.

Organisations and programmes
There are many excellent organisations and programmes that help children and young people make a meaningful contribution in their community such as the Scouts or the GAA. One of the most remarkable aspects of the GAA is its voluntary spirit. Almost everyone involved is a volunteer and it affords many opportunities for people to give back and to contribute as leaders and mentors. This voluntary spirit has enormous benefits for the community.

There are also many awards programmes that emphasise holistic development in young people such as the Gaisce or President Awards. To achieve a Gaisce award, the young person must achieve a series of self-directed challenges and learning experiences that involve community involvement, learning a personal skill, physical recreation and an adventure journey.

A key aspect of the awards is that they are self-directed and not competitive. The young people are making a personal achievement and not “beating” anyone else. Therefore they are inclusive and every young person can get involved. In addition, the focus on developing character and important life skills in a range of domains makes them enormously beneficial to those who participate.

Prof. John Sharry, Irish Times (originally published July 2016)
John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday. For further information on building children’s self-esteem, read John’s book: ‘Bringing Up Happy, Confident Children’.

Read the other articles in this six-part series on building your child’s self-esteem here.