Using the power of story to build self-esteem in children

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Alan White

“A tree with strong roots, laughs at storms” – Malay Proverb.

I believe that to facilitate well-being in children it is vital that well-being education begins at an early age. As a Secondary school teacher, I have always admired Primary school teachers. They have the ability to develop positive relationships with their students that is often more difficult to do at second level. At primary school, teachers have the same group for the full school year and they become so much more than just a teacher. They become role-models, counsellors, nurses, referees and much more to their students. That is why Primary level is an important time to introduce the concept of well-being education.

Our self-esteem is the foundation for our well-being. Without positive self-esteem we are likely to struggle in our lives as we will always feel like we are not good enough, experience feelings of guilt and behave in often self-destructive ways. How we think and feel about ourselves is the biggest factor that informs our internal narrative. If we have positive self-esteem, the story we tell ourselves tends to be largely a positive one. However if we have poor self- esteem the stories we tend to tell ourselves can be negative, self-deprecating and ultimately counterproductive to our hopes and dreams.

Our sense of self, begins to develop from the moment we are born. Young children are amazing at picking up subtle cues from the important people in their lives, their parents and extended family initially and as they grow their teacher’s friends and anyone else they regularly interact with. If a child is brought up in a positive and affirming environment, where they are loved unconditionally, encouraged and feel safe, positive self-esteem tends to develop. The opposite is the case if a child is brought up in an environment where they feel that they are only loved conditionally, i.e. if they conform, achieve, and behave. If a child experiences an environment where there is regular tension, sarcasm, over punishment, they will quickly internalise these experiences and begin to blame and criticise themselves.

That is why it is important to allow children to develop a strong sense of self from an early age. If a child has a strong base from which to grow, they are not only more likely to see themselves as capable and valuing themselves as an individual, but they are also more likely to flourish. The first 1000 days theory is one that makes a lot of sense in this regard. The first 1000 days of a child’s development is crucial to how they develop and how they build a platform for their future development. I believe that well-being education should be fun and inspiring. Well-being education is becoming, thankfully, more accepted as a part of our education, not just for children but also for us as teachers, who, if we are honest need well-being in our own lives to help cope with what life throws at us.

Alan White is a Secondary School Teacher at Bishopstown Community School and is well known for his inspiring work in introducing mental health initiatives into the Irish school system. His secondary school resource “Choices” is published by Creagh Castle Publishing. Alan’s new resource “Oscar & Jack” written specifically for Primary Schools will be published by Creagh Castle Publishing in March and is a series of stories and accompanying workbook for children to help them to manage their emotions and maintain mental well-being.

Using the power of story to build self-esteem in children was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Preventing Cyber-bullying by Not Focusing on Cyber-bullying

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

As we begin 2017 and a new year of opportunities and challenges await us, I thought it would be a good time to highlight what Cybersmarties have learned in the last year about how children use social media when they are in a completely safe and positive environment. As of this week, we have over 9000 kids of Primary School age using Cybersmarties and is increasing at a rate of 1500 kids per week. We have .001% instances of cyber-bullying on the site. It is something we are proud of, not so much because of the technology we have created but because we know that this new approach is having a huge effect on the ground. We all know the issues concerning cyber-bullying – there is a new survey on it nearly every week. Talking about problems just manifests problems; nothing positive ever comes from reiterating the negative. However focusing on the positive aspects of social media manifests solutions.

Cybersmarties doesn’t concentrate on cyber-bullying – we concentrate on providing a social network that is so safe, so positive, so full of fun, so continuously encouraging of the child to believe in themselves that children on Cybersmarties have no reason or no compulsion to behave badly. And this new way is working, all the statistics are proving it. However if they do send inappropriate messages, then the behavioural technology kicks in which educates rather than punish. It gives the child the opportunity to think things through before acting. How many of us as adults could do with that!! We also subtly tell children that making friends has nothing to do with how someone looks or how popular someone is. Children as a result become less attached to other’s opinions of themselves; they are more interested in being happy within their own skin.

A wise man said “If you want something you have never had then you must do something you have never done”. Cybersmarties takes this approach to social networking for kids. If we want to prevent cyber-bullying, we must focus on positive interaction between kids. If we want to prevent the problems of mental health and depression which are so prevalent today, then we must attempt to educate children now in life skill coping mechanisms which could help them through a hard time.

Being a tech firm, we use technology to do this. This is why we brought out a Wellbeing section which teaches amongst other things – meditation. We know from our data that kids are listening to these videos before going to bed, to calm and slow the mind down and what is more important is that they are doing it themselves for themselves. We have Superheroes deliver positive messages each day to each child because good role models are important. For the team here at Cybersmarties, 2017 is about bringing a whole new range of features for kids which entertain, illuminate and allow creativity to flourish. This is our mission. We are dedicated to the propulsion of positivity in all aspects of life which can help kids grow into happier, more fulfilled and wholesome young adults.

Preventing Cyber-bullying by Not Focusing on Cyber-bullying was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Staying true to yourself

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Brendan Woodage
Operations Manager at CyberSmarties

Social media currently co-exists with our lives. For many of us there is no boundary between real life, and the life we live online. The first thing many of us do when we wake up is reach over to our phone to see did we “miss anything” while we slept. However, one of the truest aspects of social media is that it gives us the opportunity to portray ourselves in the light that we want to be portrayed. Shy people can be outspoken, rich people can flaunt their wealthy lifestyles, and your everyday Joe like me can share moments in our everyday lives. We can choose to be smart, funny or provocative, and we can let our followers, friends, and family believe that the “you” that they see on social media, is the “real you”.

However, in my opinion, this ability to craft yourself into your ideal version of yourself online is not actually one of social media’s benefits, but one of social media’s greatest pitfalls. For those who have a strong sense of identity offline, this isn’t much of an issue, but for many of us who don’t, social media can distort our own identities and have damning effects on our mental health as we attempt to recreate this online idealistic version of ourselves offline.

In one of my favourite books – Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, Harry Potter stumbles across a mirror in an abandoned classroom. The mirror in question is called the Mirror of Erised, in which your refection, according to Albus Dumbledore (Harry’s Head Master), shows the “deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” Even the name “Erised” is “desire” spelled backwards, as if reflected in a mirror. When someone looks at this mirror (being in the magical world of Harry Potter) it not only shows your reflection, but also displays the reflection of the version of you that you most desire.
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“Can you think of what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?” Harry shook his head.

“Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is. Does that help.”

Harry thought. Then he said slowly, “It shows us what we want… whatever we want…”

“Yes and no,” said Dumbledore quietly.

“It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.

I believe that social media carries a huge resemblance to the Mirror of Erised. When we look at social media, we only ever see other people’s desired reflections of themselves, and only portray the version of ourselves that we want people to see. And unfortunately it is actually a common case where you can see so much of someone online, and believe that you understand and know this person and then when you meet them in person (offline) they may seem like a different person to the one you thought you knew. And that is because they have crafted this image of themselves, carefully selecting what characteristics, traits and appearance they want you to see, without entirely being true to themselves.

And unfortunately, many of us waste away behind the screen, crafting this ideal version of ourselves online, ignoring the fact that it is the offline version of you that matters. This online version of you should not be a goal, target, or indicator of your social standing. Your online identity should reflect your offline identity and not the other way around.

So this week, my blog is actually a plea. I urge anyone who is reading this to do just one thing. Be true to yourself both online and offline. Your identity is yours alone and it is your actions both online and offline which defines you. We here at CyberSmarties believe that if social media is used incorrectly, it can not only effect your happiness, but it can have lasting negative repercussions on your mental health and wellbeing, but you can also lose touch with your true identity in pursuit of a better one. So be yourself, and don’t chase a desired image of yourself that you believe will be most liked by others. And don’t be fooled by everyone else’s online personalities either. Social media is the real Mirror of Erised, and as Albus Dumbledore advised Harry,

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Staying true to yourself was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Online Parks

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Brendan Woodage
Operations at CyberSmarties

CyberSmarties took a two week break from work recently. After our first eight months of tirelessly working towards our goal of creating a safe space for children online, we decided that it was time for some time off. My colleagues immediately used this time to both spend time with their kids, and visit their parents, while I spent my time off catching up on boxsets and taking trips to my local park.

Now I’m forever observing. I enjoy sitting back and watching. I enjoy learning my surroundings and analysing and understanding who and what is in my immediate vicinity. So although my holidays were spent relaxing, I still managed to learn a lesson or two.

I journeyed to the park five times over my time off. There was this particular spot under a large tree that I went to that was near the playing field in case I wanted to go for a run, but also gave me a good view of the rest of the park. Each day that I sat there with my headphones on, I’d see the same faces. There were the same boys out kicking a football around, the same people walking their dogs, and the same mothers or fathers out with their kids. It was this that got me thinking. As a child I lived in England and there was a park that I used to visit called Victoria Park, across the road from my house. My parents would bring my siblings and I to the park every opportunity they had and it was there that I learned to ride my first bike, where I first went to kick a ball with my dad, etc. I remember wanting to spend all of my time there, to explore the park by myself. But my mother told me that you couldn’t stay at the park forever and that I was not allowed to go to the park by myself until I was old enough. By the time I was old enough, we had moved to Ireland. The thing is that as I watched the people at the park in Limerick, I realised that the same thing was happening here. Kids were having their first experiences here. You could see their love for the park growing. They were building up memories with their parents, learning how to do new things, being social, and having fun. Even the teenagers who were playing ball were having a great time.

And so, this park; in my eyes, reminds me of the internet and social media. It’s a place where you can socialise, meet friends, have fun, and learn new things. But you wouldn’t let your kids go to the park by themselves if there weren’t old enough just like you shouldn’t let kids be on grown up social networks when they’re not old enough. Cybersmarties Fully Monitored System is the age appropriate safe stepping stone to teach kids how to behave, be safe and communicate online. It is the stabilisers of the bike. The kids are going to move on to other social networks as they grow older, and explore different parks. But making sure that they’ve learned the right skills to protect themselves before they venture out into the wider world is a must, and with CyberSmarties, not only do we have interactive games and coding lessons, jokes, competitions, and daily positive reinforcement, but we have behavioural technology to ensure that when the child moves to their next social network, that they’ll be safe, educated, and happy, free to enjoy an “online park” which is creative, nurturing, fun, educational and above all is safe.

Online Parks was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Luminosity

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

As a writer I suppose I have always been interested in words, the way they sound, the way they are used in language, their numerous meanings. The word “Luminosity” I came across listening to music by Mark Richter. In the Western World “luminosity” is given its scientific definition which is the brightness of a celestial object relative to the brightness of the sun. To me though its definition seemed a little less luminous than what I had hoped. Until by accident yesterday in a moment of planetary boredom I came across the word in another program about the Urdu language of Pakistan (I shall clear up quickly here that I do not just watch obscure documentaries, I am an avid Games of Thrones fan…Winter is coming….or as we say in Ireland, Winter’s never left).

In the Urdu language, luminosity means the quality of being luminous, emitting or reflecting light. Now this seemed a lot more interesting a word to me as there is something wholly human about that word, not a celestial object in sight. For me humans are luminous creatures. When people are happy, we emit light which affects others. We’ve heard the phrases like “She is glowing” or “She lit up the room with her smile”. To me when people are happy their faces literally shine, it is a natural human instinct which is infectious to all others present. When someone smiles you involuntarily smile back. The same cant be said of scowling I may add, I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work.

This brings me to another point about luminosity and its meaning. What kind of light do you want to emit to the world? Is it a negative light which darkens the mood of others, the kind of light that people are afraid of, shirk away from, do not want to be around? Or do you want to radiate light, making others feel better for a while because you have brightened their day. Let’s expand this point a little further. Imagine when a whole crowd of people emit light of happiness and what affect that has. I wonder can it be measured, the positive effect of human luminosity. At Cybersmarties, we hope that our technology through its safety and creativity allows children that ability to shine and only good can come from that.

Something else to ponder. Another documentary I watched recently (I’m losing my own argument here about viewing tastes!!) was about human DNA. A group of people of different nationalities, of all religions and colours were asked to define who they were, what their nationality meant to them, what they thought about other nationalities. The views were unsurprising – The Englishman disliked the Germans, The Jewish person disliked the Palestinian, The Russian disliked Americans and so on. Then all of them were asked to submit their DNA for testing and the results were very interesting. The Englishman had 5% German in him, the Jewish person was 24% Palestinian and so it went on. In all cases no person was 100% of their own nationality. We are not who we think we are, we are particles of this earth, a celestial object of our ancestors from every nation on earth. I wonder if people would think the same about bombing and killing and invading other countries if they knew they had in fact distant relatives living there. Perhaps we should all be made do a DNA test. In the wake of the terrible loss of life in Turkey and Iraq, I wonder what light the human race is emitting now: is it infectious or infected? So yes indeed humans are luminous creatures but we are reflecting many colours in our light.

Luminosity was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Just has to be done

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Wenqian Xu
System Administrator of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” – Bil Keane

Many people are always worried about something. For instance, in the morning people are worried about the heavy traffic which might cause them to be late for work; During work, people are worried about other people’s opinions and trying to guess what is on someone’s mind; After work, people are worried about choosing dinner. Even before sleep, people are still worried about sleeping in the next morning which will make them late for work etc. Such a life is like a “perfect” circle, if you get lost in it, it’s very hard to shake off.

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” – Swedish Proverb

I myself had such an experience just in this month. At the beginning of June, I finally finished all my essential 12 lessons to obtain a full Irish driving license. It took quite a long time, almost every weekend. Although I hold a driving license in my home country of China, I needed to get used to driving on the left because I am used to driving on the right. For one hour each week, I tried to remember all the rules of the road (like how to enter a roundabout properly etc.). So, the only thing on my mind was to pass the driving test as soon as possible just in case I forget the skills and knowledge which I learnt from my driving instructor. Upon completion of my lessons I applied to sit my full driving test. However, after two weeks I heard nothing, no emails, no calls, nothing. So here was where the worrying started. At that time, I was starting to make lots of “strange” assumptions – Is something wrong with my application? Did I choose a wrong available date for the test? etc. After work, the first thing I did when I got back home was to check the RSA website, log in to my account and check my application status. To be honest, just looking back at it now, it reminds me of a quote from Leo Buscaglia –

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

So, what made me finally stop worrying was a talk with my boss – Diarmuid Hudner. Actually just one sentence which he usually says, simple but powerful –

“Just has to be done.”

Taking the above as an example, just thinking about passing the driving test is a thing which “just has to be done.” If something is wrong with my application, the driving test centre will eventually notify me to correct it. If I choose the wrong available date for a test, at least there are some days I can choose which would be suitable. According to the rules, when I get the test date, I still have 2 opportunities to reschedule for free. I also ask myself, is there anything I can do that I haven’t done? The answer is no. So, the only thing left is patience and leave it be.

This methodology also works in relation to everyday worries as discussed in my first paragraph. “Starting work on time” is a thing which just has to be done. Why not get up earlier or prepare everything the night before in order to save time in the morning? Furthermore, lots of research reveals that trying to read someone’s mind usually doesn’t work too well at all. So, why not communicate and ask what you want to ask? You might say it won’t be so easy in real life which I totally understand and agree with. But… at least it’s one way which can help us stop worrying and stay positive, isn’t it? And it works for me.

So, no more worries, things just have to be done. If something happens, find a solution to solve it. That’s it. Simple but powerful.

In the end, as a technical guy, it’s my first time to write something about psychology and methodology. Hope you like it and hope it helps you too. Thank you very much.

Just has to be done was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Why Education should Flourish

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Dr. Patricia Mannix McNamara
Senior Lecturer, Education Dept. University of Limerick

I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse be reduced by it.
-Maya Anglou

Mostly we think we are mentally healthy because we do not experience mental illness. We are inclined to think that absence of mental illness means mental health by default. This way of thinking has its roots in the medical model, which has dominated our understanding of health, but this is really problematic because the absence of mental illness does not presuppose good mental health. We assume that we are experiencing physical and mental health and well being if we do not evidence symptoms of illness. How do we know? If we assume that mental health is the absence of psychological illness or distress then if we are meeting daily challenges isn’t that enough? Actually, the important measures are simpler:

· Do I experience moments of happiness daily?
· Do I feel joy?
· Do I love?
· Do I laugh often (really laugh)?
· Do I feel free to say what I really think and to act feely upon it?
· Do I have goals in life? Am I capable of meeting them?

We often confuse existence with mental health but absence of mental illness is not synonymous with mental health or wellbeing. Languishing is not enough. Passive definitions of mental health (absence of illness) do significant disservice to health gain. Some people like Corey Keyes and Maureen Gaffney argue that flourishing is what we should strive for. Flourishing they see as active living and reaching the most optimal level of human functioning. A flourishing person’s life is filled with happiness, goodness, creativity, growth, and resilience. Sound good?

The reason why this is so important is that as adults if we settle for existence rather than flourishing as our way of living, and if we accept existence as our standard of mental health then we teach our children that this is standard to live by.

Recently I was attending a conference about teaching and there was a young child present in the audience beside me. The speaker asked the audience a seemingly simple question: What makes a good teacher? The answers from the audience (of academics) were of course informed and included things like excellent pedagogy (teaching strategies); excellent subject knowledge and care for student learning. I turned to the child beside me knowing that they were best positioned to answer this question because they live with this every school day. So I asked him:

“What do you think? What do you think makes a good teacher?”

His reply was simple, only three words and quite profound:

“A happy one.”

It does not get any clearer than that!

A happy teacher is more than likely a flourishing one, whose professional life is fulfilling and who communicates mental health in their very being. This challenges us to ask are we happy? Do we experience moments of happiness daily? Do we communicate mental health in our very being?

Why settle for existing…isn’t flourishing worth striving for?

Why Education should Flourish was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog