Valentine’s Day and Teaching Children about Self-Worth

A Valentine Project to Develop Children’s Self-Esteem


It is often said that the greatest love you can ever possess is the ability to truly love yourself. As St Valentine’s Day approaches, let us look then at the opportunity it provides us with to reflect on the notion of love. A lot of adolescents are suffering because of low self-esteem. As adolescence begins, the psychological task faced begins to shift. No longer is the main unconscious process focussed on learning how to accomplish and how to complete various tasks. Rather the unconscious mind is concerned with identity formation, the adolescent mind becoming engaged in a process of coming to know who the self really is. With this stage of psychological development comes an understandable heightened sense of self-consciousness, particular in relation to how others perceive them to be. And hence the increased risk to self esteem, when so much attention regarding whether a person feels ‘of worth’ is on something that is external to the self. The key protective factor for adolescent mental health is to have instilled in them a solid sense of their own self worth. Valentine’s Day affords us with the opportunity to begin this process.

A simple way to begin to get children to focus on self-worth is to suggest that they make a Valentine’s card for themselves. By explaining the importance of the value of loving yourself, it becomes a fun, creative way for children from age of 6 to 11 to engage with the concept of self-worth. Children are more likely to engage with learning if it is taught in a fun, creative way and this simple exercise provides children with the opportunity to focus on what it is they love about being themselves.

It can be hard not to become somewhat cynical about the commercialisation of St Valentine ’s Day. But it is a day to celebrate love and it is one we should engage in with gusto. Let us seize the opportunity to teach our children that the most important relationship they will ever have is the one they have with themselves. They deserve the opportunity to develop skills to build self-worth. Mental health matters…. so too does love.

Mental Fitness

‘Mental Fitness’

‘The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.’
Tony Robbins

Being fit, getting fit, feeling fit; there is a lot of talk about it at this time of year… with new year’s resolutions abounding and RTE’s Operation Transformation on many people’s TV screens. And there is no doubt about it, fitness is fantastic and has a multitude of health benefits. But think for a moment just about the word fit…. think what it would be like to then focus on the term ‘mental fitness’ in your mind, instead of always associating it with the physical. Physical fitness has almost become one word but what if we were to broaden the word out…
What would you imagine this country would be like if RTE dedicated an entire series of Operation Transformation to our mental fitness? Yes, physical fitness matters a great deal and it is important to pay attention to our diet, our level of physical activity and our BMI. But is it more important than our level of mental fitness? Does our daily diet of thoughts not impact on us just as much, colouring our experience of living this life, influencing how we each feel?
We indeed have a crisis in this country. As a nation we are physically less active than we ever have been before so attention to physical fitness, particularly for children, matters an awful lot. But mental fitness matters too as the levels of depression and anxiety being experienced are at a very high level, for our young people growing up as well as for many adults. It’s just not as obvious as how a person is doing mentally is not immediately obvious when we look at them, whereas a person’s physical appearance which can hint towards a level of physical fitness, unlike a person’s mind, is readily available for us to see.
The phrase ‘mental fitness’ is one I tweeted about this morning. I stated that a person’s mental fitness level mattered as much as a person’s physical fitness level and I got an immediate positive response from Operation Transformation. So maybe the idea is catching on. Maybe a new journey could be beginning where people in the future will spend 30 minutes every day doing a ‘mental fitness workout’.
What do you believe would happen if people in this country took their mental fitness as seriously as they take their physical fitness? What would happen if as much effort was going into selecting thoughts for the day as is going into the planning of healthy meals? Would the mental health of the nation start to rise? I believe it certainly would. Do you?

A Step Towards a Happy New Year

A Step Towards a ‘Happy’ New Year

Anne McCormack


‘You may think you stand alone because you chose to be true to you. But, by doing so, you actually attract people to you who truly respect who you are.’


If only there was a simple recipe for happiness but there is not one. Otherwise, everyone would likely follow it and there would be no aggression, no hostility, there would be no wars. So there is not a simple recipe but that doesn’t mean there are not things we can do, ways of living that can incrementally bring us one step closer to a happy and contented life. As the New Year begins, people take all sorts of steps to try to ‘improve’ their experience of life. Here is one idea on happiness and it’s one that works…

There is a theory, based on research , which suggests that to be clear about our values is a step towards happiness. Not only though should we work out what values matter most to us but we must then go on to choose to live in alignment with these values. This practice (which some people do quite naturally) will bring us closer to happiness. So what value or values matters most? For some, it could be honesty and if it is, to be dishonest is to be unhappy. For some it may be genuineness, for others, integrity. Others again could value generosity or kindness. We are all so different and we all have different needs and wants. Sometimes it can happen that values get forgotten about and this happens for a myriad of different reasons. Often being out of step with our true selves becomes a way of being in life. For example, people can feel they need to act a certain way for certain people or in certain relationships rather than really express their true feelings  but if one of your core values is genuineness, are you really being  fair or true to yourself if you are going around wearing a mask?

We always have choices and as the New Year begins, it is a chance to choose again. We can choose to tune in to the values that really matter. To check at the end of each day if to-day was a day that you  were truly honest, a day that you really did tell yourself the whole truth or if to-day you had integrity in all that you  endeavoured to do. There may not be any magical recipe to follow to end up with a happy life but living closely in alignment with your core values is one sure, solid step towards a happier life. As the New Year begins, it is a method of living that brings you closer to being true to your core self.

Sometimes by being true to ourselves, we lose but  maybe it’s better that way as you get to hold on to the essence of who you really are…….. Look in. How can you be true to you? Happy New Year.

Mindfulness at Christmas

Mindfulness at Christmas….

‘Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too…. Whatever you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.’

W.H. Murray

Some people find it hard to begin mindfulness practice and some find it hard to continue with it once they have begun. While mindfulness is a great practice which helps us deal more effectively with difficult times and help us appreciate more the good times, while it has been found to change for the better how people experience their lives,  it is still sometimes, a difficult practice to incorporate into daily life. Part of the reason for this is that people find it hard to do. But all you really need to do is commit. Commit to the decision to do it.

We all know how to be mindful and live in the present moment but sometimes it is hard to believe this. Try and remember back to what Christmas was like when you were a child. If you were lucky enough to live in a society like this one, where a certain special visitor brought gifts from the North Pole for all the children who tried their very best to be good all year, you will probably remember the feeling of excitement and anticipation that that special time brought. Now try to remember what it like when you went downstairs to open gifts  that were left for you under the tree. Remember the moment you saw the gifts, the moment you got to see what was inside. Try to remember back to what it was like to open those gifts and maybe take them out for that first play…. were you living ‘in the moment’ then? We are each born with an innate ability to live in the present moment. We forget that though and do it less and less as we grow (generally speaking) as we have more and more on our minds and our minds are all clogged up. But don’t ever think you can’t do mindfulness. Don’t think you can’t sit still and look up at the stars, or look at the Christmas lights and nothing else….just being in that moment for a moment.

Adults (generally speaking) don’t bounce on trampolines. Adults don’t usually sit down with a packet of twistables and colour in a Christmas tree but that doesn’t mean gmailwe couldn’t do it. We could if it was what we choose to do. So neither should we say we can’t be mindful just because we’re not in the habit of it, but habits are down to choice and once we commit to making it part of our day, it becomes automatic again, just as it was in childhood. If we as adults have lost the ability to just be, then all we need to do to be mindful is to make a commitment to it. Notice your in breath. Pay attention to the beauty of the lights…… watch and learn from those lovely little people all around. They are doing it automatically an awful lot of the time….kids at Christmas, living in the moments.





Minding Mental Health

Minding Mental Health

‘If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.’


E. Joseph Cossman

We all know how it goes…. Someone tells you not to worry about something and while it may help marginally, the worrying does not just automatically stop. Someone else telling you not to worry about something can be good because it gives you the idea that for others the thing you are worrying about is not necessarily that worthy of worry, you may even feel that things won’t  turn out so bad. But to take control of your mind, to actually train your mind to not get stuck in loops of worried thought, that can be a harder  thing to achieve.

Research has emerged that is suggesting a possible link between chronic worrying and the likelihood of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the Epidemiology Department of Michigan State University, researchers have found while studying participants over a long number of years, that those who as children were prone to worrying a lot over everyday occurrences were much more likely to develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a traumatic event. The statistics indicated clearly that chronic worrying is an indicator of vulnerability to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rather than the chronic worrying being a feature that develops as a result of the trauma.

So how can this research help us to better mind our children’s mental health? Are there things we can do to try to steer our children away from developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder later in life if a traumatic event occurs for them? We can’t necessarily avoid the trauma that happens on the journey we all make through life but can we better prepare the next generation to meet trauma with resiliency? Tuning in to how much worrying children do is the first good step in helping them take control of minding their mental health. If the child has a natural propensity towards worrying, you can guide them to an alternative way of thinking, not by saying not to worry but by increasing their own awareness about what thinking is behind the worried feeling. To explore with them what the thoughts are that are causing the worry and then to look at the evidence to suggest that that particular thought is not essential. For example, a child who is worried about what may happen in the schoolyard may be feeling worried because something difficult happened in the yard the week before. By exploring the child’s thoughts around this, they may be able to come up with a strategy to deal with the particular situation and then will begin to develop a belief that is along the lines of ‘I am able to problem solve.’ If this belief becomes strong over time, by strategising when worried feelings arise, even a child who has a natural tendency to worry can gain control of their thoughts and learn to manage their mind. This is not only then a route to better mental health but as the researchers in Michigan have found, it may also be a part of the resiliency a person develops to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes life is really tough and there are traumas that happen that knock us right over. Sometimes developing Post Traumatic Stress disorder is unavoidable but we can try to build up the resources of the next generation to better deal with trauma just as we can build up our own resources too. Minding mental health. There are things we can do….. and it matters.

A Way to Think About Disappointment

A Way to Think About Disappointment

‘Disappointment to a noble soul is what water is to burning metal; it strengthens tempers, intensifies but never destroys it.’

Eliza Tabor

Disappointment is not one of those feelings that we all wish for in our daily lives. It can be a difficult thing to feel and when it is present within us,  there can be a felt sense of wanting to shrug it off or distract oneself from really feeling it. But disappointment, like all feelings, has validity and by not allowing it to inhabit us even for a short time, we then fail to see what it can offer. Here’s what I believe is often overlooked when the merits of feeling disappointed are discussed…….. disappointment bears witness to  hope.

Hope is a great thing. For me, it is one of the most important feelings of all. Sometimes we are very aware of what we hope for.  Other times we may not be aware and so it may be when we feel disappointment that we realise that we had hoped for something or some outcome. By focusing on the presence of disappointment, we can bring the hope into view. And it is always worth paying attention to what it is we hoped for… Because hope can begin anew. It can be reborn. Part of the process of renewing and replenishing  hope is sometimes to feel disappointment.


How Parent’s Can Support their Child to Engage in Activities

Oxytocin is a hormone that is released in the body if you extend a hug a with a person you have a strong loving bond with for a period of about twenty seconds. Oxytocin is a hormone produced naturally in the body and it is a natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety hormone. So what has this to do with children and activities….. here’s the link.

Another way to release Oxytocin is to maintain eye contact for a period of up to twenty seconds. If a child doesn’t want to go swimming, for example, and you as their parent feel that it is good for them to learn to swim, you could take the following approach.

  1. Understand that the activity may trigger a negative emotion for the child such as anxiety, sadness, frustration, fear especially if the activity is something the child finds challenging or unenjoyable.
  2. Ask your child to look you in the eye and keep eye contact with you and keep this up for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Ask your child to continue to look at you while you chat together about swimming.
  4. Understand that starting the conversation after 20 seconds of eye contact means the Oxytocin will probably have been released and any anxiety that is felt by the child when swimming is mentioned should be neutralised.
  5. Explain to the child that the way they feel about swimming is related to the way they are thinking about it and brainstorm with the child other ways to think about it….
  6. Ask them what feeling they have as you talk. If it’s now a happy feeling, ask them to close their eyes, feel the happy feeling in their body and think of swimming at the same time.
  7. Continue to have these ‘chats’ which begin with eye contact for a period of about 10 days.
  8. Believe in yourself and that what you are doing is going to work and this will be communicated to the child through your eyes.
  9. Support and encourage your child when they are able to express a more positive sentiment towards the activity.
  10. You can influence a child’s beliefs and this will then influence their thinking and their feeling………this approach works best if you intervene when the anxiety or frustration starts.


How Events From the Past can Affect us Emotionally in the Present

How Events from the Past can Affect Us Emotionally in the Present.

‘When some feature of an event seems similar to an emotionally charged memory from the past, the emotional mind responds by triggering the feelings that went with the remembered event. The emotional mind reacts to the present as though it were the past.’

(Daniel Goleman,1996)

Sometimes something happens in the present and our emotional reaction to it seems bigger than we would have imagined it to be. It can seem like the emotional reaction is somewhat out of proportion to the event and this can leave a person bewildered as to why. If someone is critical, for example, or if someone is annoyed with you, can it take days to get over the critical remark or do you feel devastated if someone is annoyed by something you have done?

At times, the criticism or annoyance directed our way really does hurt a lot if what we have done or said to result in the criticism or annoyance was done with good intentions. But sometimes our emotional reactions are more related to events that happened in the past, rather than the event happening now. We all have life experiences that are stored in our memories and minds and even if we don’t remember them in an accurate way, we still have some emotional memory of it. For example, if a person was criticised a lot as a young child, even if they don’t remember it, they will have an emotional memory of it stored. This emotional memory is stored often in a person’s sub-conscious and can be triggered if a small but similar event takes place. If we react strongly to something, we can sometimes work out quite quickly that our response is related to past experience. This can then free you up to separate out the two events, the one from the past and the one from the present, putting in perspective what is happening emotionally for you right now and having more choice about how you wish to react. Our emotional responses to situations are not a genetic inheritance. We can work on our level of emotional intelligence and become more aware of how we do and how we wish to react to things that happen in life.

The present is now and despite the emotional memories we all have stored, now is the situation at hand. Make a choice about what you believe and while all that happens in the past shapes how we think and what we believe, we can control to a large extent how we choose to focus our mind. The present is not the past so the next time your emotional reaction to something seems huge; ask yourself if something else is being triggered. It can all be worked through.. And this includes unresolved  pain from the past too. Remember always… the present is not the past.

How Does Mindfulness Work?

How Does Mindfulness Work?

‘You see, I think everything’s terrible anyhow. And I know, I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything.’

Daisy in F Scott Fitzgerald’s, ‘The Great Gatsby’

If you start the day by listening to the news or if you sit down to watch it in the evening, it can be quite hard to believe that things aren’t indeed ‘terrible’. Life is sometimes tough and no-one is immune to the difficult times that life can bring. But life can be wonderful too, sometimes for sustained periods and sometimes for shorter moments too.

When the dominant talk is of doom and gloom it can be harder to really experience the brilliance of life, particularly if the brilliance is for brief moments. If you feel fed up for example, with a lack of daylight and the seemingly endless dark Winter nights, you might not register the beauty of the stars. Looking up may even seem irrelevant when there is so much that seems to indicate that we should be looking down but Winter passes and the stars are out for less time once the Spring arrives again. Being mindful of how each moment has the potential to contain something great can be a way of thinking that brings our focus to the beauty of being in the present moment.

The practice of mindfulness is a way to train ourselves to live fully in the present, really experiencing the time right now. Research suggests that if practiced, mindfulness has the potential to greatly enhance the quality and experience of life. Dr Sara Lazar at Harvard Medical School has identified four core aspects of how mindfulness works. The first is attention regulation. This involves training the mind to overcome distraction and according to researchers, this ability to still the mind helps a person feel less flustered and ‘all over the place’ or in mindfulness ‘speak’….more centred. The second aspect of mindfulness relates to having a good awareness of your own emotions and the emotions of others. In order to develop empathy, it is important (essential) to be able to sense how you are feeling first.

The third component of mindfulness relates to emotion regulation. By allowing feelings and emotions that might normally be avoided to come up, be expressed, and therefore processed, mindfulness can help a person build up their capacity to bear undesirable feelings such as hurt, sadness or fear. The final element that I believe is the key to successful mindfulness is that it can change a person’s perspective of themselves. With practice, mindfulness can lead to a less static or less definite definition of one’s self and it can lead to the realization that we are constantly in a state of evolving. A more fluid existence is believed to lead to less stress and potentially more enjoyment of what’s happening in any given moment. An awareness of how we change all the time makes each difficult moment more bearable and each great moment more precious. So if I could transplant myself into Daisy’s world, in the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, I would ask her why she was cynical. You’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything? How about not going or doing but just being…. how about just that? Just for a moment, just to stop and be?

How to Impact Positively on Children’s Self-Esteem

Impacting Positively on Children’s Self Esteem…..

‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t…you’re right.’      Henry Ford

Beliefs shape our reality. Whether we think we can or we think we cannot is down to belief, not facts, but when a person holds a belief with strong conviction, it can feel as if it is a fact. We all have beliefs… about the world, about how the world is, about people, about ourselves. Some of us believe we are lovable and deserving of love, some of us believe we are not. Some believe that financial success is essential to  happiness, others believe it absolutely is not. Some believe that to rely on others will lead to disaster. Others believe that close bonds are always worth the effort, even if people sometimes let you down. There is no right and wrong when it comes to beliefs and  while we may not even be fully aware of what it is we believe, make no mistake about it… our beliefs are the thing that influence us most, not just in terms of  how we think about things but what actions we take or don’t take, how we make decisions and how we live our lives. And our believes were most likely developing many years ago, when we were soaking up what was happening around us, absorbing by osmosis into our unconscious minds the stuff that became beliefs.

Becoming conscious or aware of this fact then brings up the question of how we can influence the beliefs that children and adolescents are forming about themselves and the world. They too most definitely  forming beliefs about themselves and the world  and this process is a very active process when you are very young. When we are very young, we learn a lot about ourselves and the world through our experiences particularly  with those close to us. Children develop core beliefs about themselves based on their experiences in the world so for example, a child who is listened to when he has something to say will most likely be developing a belief such as ‘I deserve to be heard’ because that is what his experience is teaching him. He will grow up believing that he has the right to express himself and be heard and will more likely not hold back when he has something to say. If the people closest to a child show them through their actions that they are deserving of love, respect  and care, the child will grow up to believe they are deserving of love, respect  and care. This will then set their expectations when they enter adult relationships and they will enter adult relationships believing that they deserve to be treated well. While this belief may not be apparent on the surface, it will be there, deep down, where all of us hold our core beliefs.

From around the time children start school, they are very well able to engage in conversation. One good way to start to encourage children to become conscious of what it is they believe is to ask them direct questions about beliefs.Questions such as…’what do you believe people like about you,’ ‘what do you believe is more important, to be kind or to be popular,”what do you like about yourself and why’. These types of questions bring what may be happening on an unconscious level up to a conscious level. By becoming conscious, we become aware and even for a child, this process of becoming more self aware can lead to greater self-esteem.

Ask a child what they believe about something. Ask them why. Their core beliefs are forming so you have lots of opportunity to influence them and steer them in a direction of endless possibility. You can influence how they see themselves and see the world.What a gift.