If I told you to describe yourself in 3 words, what would you say? Growing up, I would have said “shy, kind, and lonely.” Only one of the three words were positive. Why? Because elementary school was a time where other kids started teasing each other for all the things that made them “different.” Today, the things that make me different are celebrated by me and so many others, but back then, the criticism, teasing, and judgement broke me down.
In third grade, I had to get eight teeth pulled, because I could not lose my teeth and instead had two rows of teeth. People called me “sabertooth and can opener,” which made me feel like something was wrong with me. It was not anything I could control. I was not doing anything wrong, yet people made me feel so different, like an outsider. I was also very passionate about reading, which made me a “nerd.” Other kids laughed at me and called me names for always having a book in my hand. My love of reading is an important part of my success today, but back then it felt wrong for being interested in escaping through stories.
Why am I telling you this? Because kids can be mean, and other kids can develop insecurities that make them afraid to be who they are. So many of us grow up feeling like we must hide a piece of ourselves in fear of others not understanding or judging us. And so many of us carry these insecurities throughout our lives preventing us from finding pure happiness, fully connecting in our relationships, and being true to ourselves, our goals, and our needs.
I developed a workshop titled, “Learning To Love Yourself” for Elementary Students in grades 3-5 to help them learn to love every piece of who they are despite what their peers or society tells them. We are surrounded by other people’s opinions and social media has influenced the way we perceive friendship, validation, body image, and happiness. If I could go back in time, I would do anything for someone to have taught me about ways to show kindness and love to myself rather than attack myself for not measuring up to expectations others have or society has created. And I would do anything to have had the tools I needed to cope with the insecurities, because we are all vulnerable to them, but they do not have to overpower our minds if we know how to manage them.
Therefore, this workshop is broken down into five sections, based on my workbook, “You Are Not Alone: The Workbook.” The sections are Affirmations, Choosing To Love Yourself, Emotions, Coping Skills, and an Emotional Wellness Toolbox.
Section 1: Affirmations.
Affirmations are a form of self-talk. Automatic negative thoughts pop into our heads. It is normal. But do they need to be the only voice we hear? No! We can use affirmations to combat those negative thoughts. We can reframe those negative statements:
I am not smart enough to pass this math test. à I am studying as hard as I can, and I am doing my best. I believe in myself and know I will give it my all. No matter what the outcome is, I am proud of myself and my effort.
I am not a good basketball player. I suck and it is my fault my team lost the game. I let everyone down. à I am training and constantly bettering my skills. I can and will grow my talent. Every game I do better. I know I will score a basket next game.
The section ends with the youth participant working with their adult attendee to develop 3 affirmations they can tell themselves every day. Then, practicing saying them out loud in breakout rooms.
Section 2: Choosing To Love Yourself.
Choosing to love yourself means prioritizing yourself. We are taught that loving and prioritizing ourselves means we are selfish. That is a huge misconception! When you love yourself, you trust yourself, give yourself a break, celebrate yourself, listen to how you feel, say no if you do not feel comfortable, and stand up for yourself. By teaching youth how to love themselves, we are teaching them to be aware of their feelings, acknowledge their achievements, have patience with instead of criticizing themselves, respect and enforce their boundaries, and advocate for their needs.
This section ends with the youth participant working with their adult attendee to identify ways they can show themselves love, why they are proud of themselves, and why they love themselves.
Section 3: Emotions.
Everyone has emotions, in fact we all experience the same emotions in different ways. We all feel happiness, sadness, gratitude, anger, etc. The difference is how we express ourselves. Sometimes, anger can come out in breakdowns or violence. By learning different ways to express our emotions, we can find healthy ways to feel without holding it in or misplacing it in inappropriate situations.
This section offers the youth attendee a space to express different emotions through art, music, and entertainment, while sharing additional ways they can express themselves like verbally, writing, and movement. We may not always be able to find the words to express ourselves, but we still deserve a way to communicate our emotions. This section helps form different ways of communicating that we are not ok!
Section 4: Coping Skills.
Coping skills are the tools we use when we feel overwhelmed by emotions to manage them. As you know, we all have emotions, and we all feel overwhelmed sometimes. That is ok! But there are also things we can do to get through those times. Even if you feel not ok, you do not have to stay feeling that way. What makes you smile? What makes you feel calm inside? What makes you feel strong? This what we explore throughout this section.
This section provides the space for the youth attendee to work with their adult attendee to identify coping skills they can try when they feel various emotions like anger, anxiety, burnout, sadness, overwhelmed, and lonely.
Section 5: Emotional Wellness Toolbox.
What is in your emotional wellness toolbox? This toolbox is a set of tools we can pull from when we need extra support. The toolbox the youth attendee will develop in this presentation includes:
- People you can talk to
- Ways to express your emotions
- Coping skills
- Positive affirmations
- Reasons you love yourself
This section ends with a conversation between the youth attendee and their adult attendee on where they can go and what they can do when life feels tough.
As you can see, each section creates the opportunity for the youth attendee and their trusted adult attendee to engage in open dialogue together to open honest communication about how they are feeling and what they are experiencing.
“Learning to Love Yourself” workshop is available exclusively to upper elementary school students (grades 3-5). All youth registrants must have a trusted adult present, whether it is a parent, guardian, caregiver, adult family member, or another trusted adult in the participant’s life. The intention is to create the space for the youth attendee to share in a safe, vulnerable conversation where they can be supported as well as give the adult a glimpse into what the youth attendee is experiencing and the type of support they may need.
This workshop was developed to offer youth a space to fall in love with who they are and offer support to themselves before the world gives them every reason not to. The takeaways from this workshop are everything I wish I had learned when I was in elementary school.
Register Today: Peer Support Coalition of Florida (peersupportfl.org)
You can learn more about the workshop as well as additional workshops at https://inspiringmygeneration.org/mental-health-workshops/