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

The Times, They are a Changin

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Time: the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole”

I am not sure if any of you have noticed the sunsets this October. Perhaps because of the cold, dry weather we are experiencing they have been more visible and thus I have taken more notice of them. The twinning colours of red and orange as the sun is setting over a foggy landscape of trees has been breath-taking to watch. There is something mystifying in the silence of a sunset or of a full moon when everyone is sleeping. I wonder at how many billions of people over billions of lifetimes have watched this same moon, some wishing upon it, some worshipping it but all curious about it. No matter where you are, in whatever part of the world, we all have the same view.

I wonder under the gaze of this moon, have we got the concept of time all wrong. Animals have no concept of time and therefore do not fear death. It is perhaps because they have no knowledge or concept of time that they are generally content in themselves (I use my 20 year old sheepdog “Seamus” here as an example) whereas humans are afraid of death and therefore try to pack as much into the time they believe they have left in order to believe they have not wasted the time allotted to them. This is what is called “having a good time”. For Seamus, all he has probably realised in getting older is that he can’t chase cars like he used to, female dogs don’t take any notice of him anymore, he sleeps more often and is more annoyed by the sounds of imaginary intruders (they could be there but I haven’t seen them). But if you believed that you had all the time in the world (no pun intended) you would most likely be far more content because you would not feel you had all this stuff to do because you were running out of it. After all is it not contentedness that we are all seeking. Therefore I am with Seamus on this one.

This brings me to the point of children. Children being children count their days in the number of “sleeps” until a particular event comes and this time measurement has been handed down by parents. Children under a certain age and just like Seamus, have no concept of time (I must acknowledge here that cats and other species of the animal kingdom are not excluded). They eat when they are hungry, take a nap when they are tired and play the rest of time. Sounds good to me and there seems to be a pattern arising here. My father, who is a farmer and still farming at 83, does not carry a watch except for Sunday mass, which is worn more as a fashion accessory that anything else. He has never had any concept of time. He worked outside until he was finished and if he wasn’t, it would wait for the next day. Dad was always more interested in seasons as a measuring barometer and how nature was evolving, like if berries were out late then we could expect a mild Winter. One of his pet hates was articles in the Farmers Journal by young farmers saying their grass yield was up this week by 2%. He would and does say “measuring it wont make it grow any faster, it will come up when its supposed to come up”. There is wisdom in this.

To me there is a certain natural rhythm to the world. The sun rises the sun sets, the oceans ebb and the oceans flow. We may run around trying to fit everything into an allotted time but time because it is infinite doesn’t recognise our feeble attempts at trying to control it, it just keeps on keeping on. At Cybersmarties, we want children to be children: to be allowed a safe, protected space where they are free to create and make friends because humans are creative and social creatures. When I was young (many moons and sleeps ago) we spent all day down fields, over hills, getting cut by briars and stung by nettles and it was great. I am still for all this as much as possible. But the world has changed, values have changed and how children play now is different to how I played and how children will play in the future. So if social media is a place where kids gather together nowadays, then let it be a safe place for them, where only other kids are allowed and have the TIME to be kids as long as possible. Perhaps in this way, we can maintain contentedness longer and postpone time for as long as possible.

The Times, They are a Changin was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Only a Closed Mind is Certain

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”
–Sherlock Holmes

I watched a film recently called “Dean Spanley” which was about a man, who when he drank the famous wine “Imperial Tokay”, believed himself to be the reincarnation of a Springer Spaniel dog. (Similar hallucinations have long been documented in Ireland after a particularly joyful wake!!). Was this a children’s movie I hear you ask? No on the contrary, it was a very satirical, but brilliantly acted movie featuring an all-star cast of Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. As to the veracity of whether past lives were in fact possible, Sam Neill declared that “Only a closed mind is certain”. And this statement got me thinking.

When I was a young man (or rather should I say, a younger man) I was certain of many things. I was certain that I would be famous, I was certain that Limerick would win an All-Ireland, I was certain that I would one day most likely rule the world, I was certain that women would find me irresistible and I was certain that I would not get old (or should I say older). It has been quite a rude awakening to find that I have been proven wrong in all of my certainties and even though the gate hasn’t been closed on all of them yet, I am becoming less and less certain. When I think about this statement from its truest, non-satirical standpoint then I find myself thinking about the importance if not necessity of having an open mind. Despite ourselves, our conditioning forms our opinions on society, religion, beliefs, politics and people. We are quick to judge and hold steadfast to our beliefs without ever really questioning why we think the way we do.

I often wondered about this in relation to religion and the vigorous way in which people would argue their God was the only true God, even going as far as cause wars in their name. I wonder if their conviction is actually rooted in fear, not in belief. Is it the fear that they may actually be wrong? and if so, would their belief system be shattered? everything they thought or believed to be true could be wrong and so rather than face this, is it easier to rail against it? Being certain, by its very nature, can be very dangerous as it rules out all other possibilities. Being certain excludes all other opinions except ones own and those who agree with you and this could be a very narrow way to live. Until Ferdinand Magellan conclusively proved the world was round by sailing around it, for millennia everyone was certain the world was flat. Within decades, whole fleets were circumnavigating the globe. Being certain that something cannot be done is extremely limiting to our potential as individuals and society. I know that there are numerous things I have convinced myself that I am incapable of doing or am bad at without ever really trying to see if I am wrong. It is “easier” not to try, it is easier not to have to face the truth or work at something to dispel the myth I have convinced myself of.

When we started building Cybersmarties over two and a half years ago, everyone told us what we were attempting wouldn’t work. They said behavioural technology could not be built. They said there was no way to authenticate a child as a real child. They said nothing could really be done about cyber-bullying. They said a lot of things. Tomorrow, Primary schools around Ireland begin using Cybersmarties for the full academic year. Today we were contacted by schools in the UK asking to join the network and yesterday by schools in the US. It was not that we were certain we could build behavioural technology but we kept an open mind as to the possibilities of what could be done. One cannot rule out anything until it is explored and after what was a very hard struggle, the Cybersmarties Team now know that our technology not only helps prevent cyber-bullying by educating positive behaviour but that it will spread into other countries education systems. The Socratic Paradox where Socrates was alluded to have said “I know one thing; that I know nothing” is actually very liberating. It allows the mind to roam the full spectrum of possibilities and I think we should approach education in this way. What we can do as individuals and achieve in this life is down to how open we are to life’s possibilities and how we deal with what life throws at us. We are working on new technology know which pinpoints “creative skills” in different fields as a means to encourage children to pursue their natural talents. We may not get it right, but by keeping an open mind at least we leave open the possibility of getting it right. I may not believe I will come back as a reincarnation of a Springer Spaniel but who then who am I to say…..I could win Crufts one day.

Only a Closed Mind is Certain was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

The Inner Dialogue

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Intelligence has no bearing on your level of happiness because happiness doesn’t have an IQ”
From the novel Im Happy Now.Com

This week, I heard on the radio on the way to work that the Leaving Cert Results were out. I was taken back to a time in my own youth when the same circumstances faced me. Although I did a good leaving cert, I know now that my results had no bearing whatsoever on how my life turned out, what trials lay ahead and ultimately how happy I would become. I write this blog today for everyone who has just gotten their results but especially for those who may be disappointed and are worried for their future. Please don’t be.

Firstly, as parents, we hope the best for our children. We try and give them the best we can so that they have the same or hopefully better opportunities than we had ourselves. This is only natural. We push them to be the best they can be but sometimes if truth be told, their results are seen as a reflection of us as parents. But if we are to stand back for a moment and look at our own lives, really think about the purpose of why we are living, we can see that it is ultimately to find contentment or happiness and no results will ensure that. I am not saying that we should not try and achieve, far from it, what Im saying is that we have to look at the purpose of our lives first.

To me, life is a series of challenges and the real learning is how to face them, learn from them and strive for happiness. No academic results will prepare you for life. Life just happens. Whether you have done exceptionally well in your Leaving Cert or not, results are not a definition of who you are or who you will become. The only one who defines how successful you become (and the definition of success is different for everyone) is you. Happiness doesn’t have an IQ. Happiness is just happiness. If your life brings you joy then you are an extremely successful person. This doesn’t just happen, it takes work to train how your mind perceives setbacks and disappointments, pain and loss. These are unavoidable but equally so are good times, laughter, love and fun. The question is, which do you want more?

For many years, I looked at financial success as a measure of who I was as a person. Now I know that financial success is just financial success. It allows financial freedom; that is all. It doesn’t guarantee you will marry the girl or boy of your dreams. It doesn’t guarantee you that the people you love will be free from harm or illness. It doesn’t guarantee real friendship and it doesn’t guarantee you are happy in yourself as a person. It just means you have one less thing to worry about. I never agree with those who say money cant buy you happiness because this lends itself to the belief that poverty brings you happiness. I have lived in poverty too and I certainly wasn’t happy then either. All money does is take care of money problems and that is just one problem in a long line of problems.

In my opinion and I speak only for myself here, I have to always be very careful of the inner dialogue in my head. Thoughts lead to words, words lead to actions and actions lead to repercussions. I need to work hard that the inner dialogue in my head is a positive one and catch myself when negative voices start taking control. It is very easy to let bitterness, cynicism and a moaning voice take over and this way of thinking will ensure my life goes exactly in the direction that train of thought steers me in. You are in control of the way you think, you always have been and always will be. No one lets negativity into your mind except you; you are the master of your own mind and therefore your own future. The critic inside is always more dangerous that the critic outside. When you determine that your life is going to be a certain way, truly believe it and more importantly act on these thoughts, then it is inevitable that this will happen. But most people give up when it isn’t happening straight away and find solace in believing life is easier for others or that the world is against them.

Never pity yourself. What other people think of you is none of your business. You have the same number of hours, minutes, and seconds in your day as anyone else. Oprah Winfrey doesn’t have any more than you, or Conor McGregor or an Olympic Medallist. It is what we choose to do with this time is what determines whether you achieve your goals or not. Confucius said “Those who say they can and those who say they can’t are both usually right”. If you have a goal in life; to work in Africa, to run a marathon, to be a brilliant parent, to open your own business, then make the decision and just do it. It really is as simple as that. You are unique and are on this earth for a reason; find the reason and show your uniqueness. One thing I have noticed in life is that like attracts like. If you are positive, you attract positive people around you and likewise if you are negative, negative people will be attracted to you. So be careful of the inner dialogue in your mind, because your mind will always find a comfort zone in positivity or negativity. For those young people who have just got their Leaving Cert results, irrespective of how you have done, the world is your oyster. Go out and get it, make yourself proud before anyone else, live rather be living. Your dreams are like parachutes and they only take flight when they are opened. And always remember; You are the painter, the paint, the canvas and the brush of how your life will unfold.

The Inner Dialogue was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

3 Questions

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Humans don’t have eyes on the back of their heads for a reason…you can’t move forward if you’re continually looking back”
From the novel “Im Happy Now.Com”

I was listening to a radio program recently as I drove home from work which told the story of a man living along the border during The Troubles. This man, a farmer by profession, said that on his journey to and from his farm, which spanned both sides of the border, he was continuously stopped by army patrols asking him the same three questions.

Where have you come from?
What are you doing now?
Where are you going?

As I listened to this man recount these questions over and over, I thought to myself that, albeit yes, it must have been extremely annoying for the farmer, but on a different level, the questions themselves could be used for an altogether different purpose. I thought if we asked ourselves these same three questions in relation to our lives, what answers would we give?

Take the first question. Where have I come from? Think back about all the decisions you have made in your past to bring you to this point in your life today. Are there things you would have done differently? Different choices you would have made? Things you would have said but didn’t? Would the “one who got away” have got away? Was the faraway field any greener? When many of us look back at our past, we see the things we didn’t do, the life we could have had if only this or that had happened. Few of us look back at the massive amount we have achieved, the struggles we have overcome, the family losses we have learned to live with, the love lost as soon as won, the disappointments, the courage it has taken to get up every morning, despite all the setbacks, despite all the pain and obstacles, despite it all and still kept going on. Truth is, we can’t change our past, you will never breathe the same air you did a moment ago and yet sometimes old ghosts need to be put back in their closet in order to move on. To me we are not defined by what has happened in our past or the choices, good or bad, we have made; We are defined by the choices we make today because that is all we have control over. You cannot put back together a broken egg but you can still make an omelette out of it. Give yourself credit just for being here today, you are a success, despite everything, you are still fighting the good fight.

Let’s take the second question. What are you doing now? This I felt is an interesting one. Are you where you expected to be at this point in your life? Have you exceeded or fallen behind your expectations of yourself? My friend and author, Alan White, recently wrote in a blog for Creagh Castle Publishing, that we all have a negative or positive perspective on things, people and situations based on what has happened in our lives and the environment we grew up in. I agree with Alan on this. I must have been looking the other way when God was handing out the optimism cards that day because I don’t remember being given any. I struggle with it. I don’t bound out of bed every morning with the joys of Spring, rushing to take on the world with a smile on my face. I have to work at it, tell myself throughout each day to keep going no matter what happens. However I do find that over time I don’t have to tell myself as often or struggle so hard to convince myself because I do believe that we have the power to change our circumstances at any given moment. We have a choice in every situation to look at things in either a positive or negative way, to keep bouncing like a cork on the crest of a wave and to never go under. So I choose to look at the second question in a positive way because where I am today is not necessarily where I am going to be in the future but it’s up to me.

This leads us to the third question. Where are you going? The motivational speaker Zig Ziglar (yes he must also have been looking the other way when God was handing out names) asked the question “How can you hit a target you cannot see?” Yet nearly every major human endeavour or goal ever achieved was born out of such short-sightedness. The answer to this question is that it is possible to hit a target you cannot see. This is where hope comes in. However you will never hit a target if you don’t have one. I believe that the Universe alters or changes with you when you change. If you decide and then take action towards a goal, your mind and perspective will move you in line towards it. An example is a car that you might fancy buying. If you like the look of, for example an Audi A6, then you will see them everywhere; not because there are more of them around but because you have reprogrammed your mind to focus on them and where focus goes, energy flows. This how Cybersmarties happened, one idea, lots of focus and now we are helping children through behavioural technology to use social media in an entirely new way. We couldn’t see that target either.

I always think there are little messages being given to us every day; like these three questions I heard on the radio, these messages can make one reflect on how far one has come, where one is and where one hopes to be. The power lies in the decisions we make today and the commitment to see those decisions through. I truly believe that power is within us all and that’s what we tell children on Cybersmarties, every day, through positive messages; there is nothing they cannot do. P.S Big congratulations to our adopted Chinese Systems Administrator, Wenqian Xu on passing his driving test in Ireland first time, unlike his boss who took a little longer. He hasn’t quite got the Audi A6 yet so The Cybersmarties Team emptied our wallets and bought him a toy Fiat Punto instead. From small acorns…

3 Questions was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog