Personal Story Books
What Is Self Esteem?
“My eye makes me look weird. No one will want to be my friend”. “I can’t see what people are talking about – I feel so left out”. “I’m afraid of needles, but I should be braver after so many, I’m such a wimp.”
Three statements from young retinoblastoma survivors, expressing low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is defined as an individual’s subjective evaluation of self, and it’s very important. Beginning in early childhood, what and how we think about ourselves has a huge impact on our lives.
Self-esteem can range from high or low. People with healthy self-esteem have a positive sense of self and are more confident, active, secure in their relationships, and happy. Poor self-esteem can have a negative effect on the individual’s life, their life choices, their relationships, and sometimes their physical and mental health as well as their overall well-being.
We all experience moments of self-doubt, even the most confident and sunny souls among us. Individuals affected by retinoblastoma – diagnosed children, siblings, parents, survivors and immediate extended family members, are more vulnerable to negative self-talk at a level that can impact qualify of life. Building (or rebuilding) self-esteem can be difficult for adults. It’s much more effective to develop healthy self-esteem in early childhood and nurture it constantly throughout life.
Create Your “I Am” Book
Creating a personal “I Am” Book is one of many ways to encourage a strong sense of self-worth in children affected by retinoblastoma, whether the diagnosed child or their siblings. This exciting, engaging transformative literacy activity encourages children and youth to think about and document all the things that make them an amazing individual.
With guiding statements to complete, children are able to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences in narrative form. They can also illustrate their book with drawings, photographs, collage, and scrapbook art materials.
We encourage parents to create your own personal storybook alongside your young storytellers. Record what you admire most about your amazing children, and share with them your hopes and wishes for their future.
The following are 8 recommended activities to form the contents of a personal story book. You can include them all, or choose several to focus on.
To create the book itself, you may wish to buy a blank scrapbook, or create your own by folding over four or five large sheets of thick paper and stapling or gluing them together along the fold.
A child life intern helps two young girls with their personal story book projects during a retinoblastoma child life program in Toronto, Canada, 2017.
1. ‘I Am…’ – Positive Attributes
This activity helps children express what and how they think about themselves, creating opportunity for conversation and encouragement.
You Will Need:
- Plain paper
- Writing pen
- A favourite photo of your child
- Stickers or small cut-outs of different adjectives
- Ask your child to write a list of the words that describe them on a piece of paper. The descriptors may be positive or negative.
- Discuss the words on the list and explore them together.
- Ask your child to think about their favourite positive things they want to focus on.
- Paste the child’s photo in the middle of the first page in the book.
- Ask the child to decorate the space around their photo with all the positive words from the list that they love the most – the ones that matter to them.
2. “I Am Beautiful”
This activity shows how our individuality makes us beautiful, and helps combat the modern cultural focus on external beauty. Work through the activity with your child to help them distinguish between inner and outer beauty.
You Will Need:
- Self-adhesive mirror or
- Mirror paper / tin foil and Glue
- Coloured Pens
- Attach the mirror to a blank sheet in the book.
- Tell your child: “You are beautiful because you are unique, both on the inside and on the outside. Look at yourself from the outside and inside – what you can do, how you treat others, and who you are. What makes your beautiful?”
- Help your child identify the features of that make them uniquely beautiful.
- Encourage your child to write some of the things they identify on or around the mirror. Including physical features is good, so long as your child adds at least one or two inner qualities. A balance between inner and outer traits is best.
3. “I Am Awesome”
This activity helps children think more deeply about their positive traits and characteristics, recognize their accomplishments, and explore what makes them a likable person. The prompts create an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the best parts of themselves, without guilt of feeling too proud or self-absorbed.
- Write the following 24 sentence prompts into the book, leaving space for your child to complete the statement.
- Discuss each statement with your child. Encourage them to think carefully about each one, and answer it honestly. They may need your help, so use the prompts as a spark for conversation, but try to let them come up with their own ideas about the traits and characteristics they like about themselves. Don’t worry too much if they can’t complete every statement – an incomplete set of questions can be revisited at a later date.
The statements are:
- I like who I am because…
- One unique thing about me is…
- I am super at…
- I feel good about my…
- My friends think I am awesome because…
- I feel very happy when I…
- I make my family happy when I…
- People say I am a great…
- I think I am a pretty good…
- A place where I feel very calm and safe is…
- I know I am loved by …
- One thing I really enjoy is …
- I really admire myself for…
- In the future, I want to …
- I know I can do this because I am…
- I am naturally gifted at…
- People often praise my…
- I feel good when I…
- I have succeeded before at…
- Something that makes me laugh is…
- The characteristics I love most in me are…
- My greatest talent is…
- One thing I am really proud of is…
- I am at peace when…
4. “I Am Successful”
The activity reminds children of their successes and capabilities, helping to sustain and build their confidence. Big events and milestones are often celebrated, but the smallest achievements are building blocks to high self-esteem when well-acknowledged.
- Encourage your child to list their successes on a blank page in the book. Leave space on the page (or a following blank page) to add more achievements later. The list might include a range of small and big achievements like “I shared my toys with my brother”, “I helped put away the washing”, or “I completed my first eye exam in the office”.
- To remind your child of their accomplishments and encourage a positive mind-set, invite them to look over the list and add new achievements, either daily or once a week, before going to bed.
Self published books are a great sel-esteem boosting activity for children and youth of all ages. These sistes enjoyed creating their books during the Child Life Program at One Retinoblastoma World, Washington D.C., USA, 2017.
5. “I Am Afraid But…”
Fear is powerful and can prevent us from doing the things we like and dream of. It can take over our lives and become very limiting. This activity helps children face their fears with practical coping strategies.
- Ask your child to list the things they fear or are afraid to do. Leave space below each statement to complete the activity with each one. Each statement should read something like the following:
I am afraid to play football because…
I am scared of having eye drops at the hospital because…
- Encourage your child to imagine doing the fear-inducing activity. Talk about what they are are afraid of, and the possible outcomes of doing the activity. Write down the fears and possible outcomes they identified.
- Brainstorm potential solutions and coping strategies with your child to overcome the fears they identified. Then write them down. For example:
I am afraid to play football because I can’t see the ball.
We could make it safer and less scary by wearing sports goggles, talking with the coach about adaptations like playing with an auditory or brightly coloured ball. Or we could find a different sport I enjoy.
I am scared of having eye drops at the hospital because they hurt.
We could make it less scary by using comfort positions, favourite distractions and deep breathing.
- Create an action plan to implement the potential solutions you and your child have identified, and put it in your diary. For example, when will you speak with the football coach – and do you have specific suggestions to discuss with them? When will you practice comfort positions and deep breathing techniques with your child, and help them prepare some distraction activities?
6. “I Am Kind To Myself”
Negative self-talk is profoundly destructive to self-confidence, self-worth, and quality of life. The habit often begins at a very early age and persists throughout life. This activity helps children transform their negative self-talk into personal encouragement.
- Create two columns on a blank page. On the left, write “Negative self-talk” and on the right, write “Positive self-talk.”
- Ask your child to list all the negative statements they make about themselves under the negative self-talk column.
- Next, ask your child to turn each negative statement into a positive. The statements should be clear and specific to the child’s talents or abilities.
Your child may need help converting every statement, or you may only need to give an example to explain the concept. Point your child back to the statements created in previous activities to give them material to draw from. Share how you translate your own negative self-talk into a positive messages, and how that helps you.
7. “I Am A Good Friend”
This activity helps children recognize what makes them good friends, the kind of person they want to be, and the attributes to seek in a friend.
- Read the following statement to your child: “Making friends is like making a cake. Different parts of who we are get mixed together and baked up to create something special. What traits do you think are important for making friends, and why are they important to you?”
- On a blank page, list what your child identifies as important, and the reasons.
- Ask your child which of the traits they can identify in themselves, and put a loveheart or other marker next to them.
Look back at the “I Am Beautiful” activity. Talk with your child about how different people have different traits, and it is Okay to not have every friendship quality they identified. It is individual people bringing their uniqueness together that makes friendships special.
8. Self-Esteem Journal
Keeping a self-esteem journal encourages children to regularly reflect on their positive experiences and thoughts, nurturing a stronger sense of self-worth and a more optimistic, peaceful state of mind. Daily reflection helps to develop a habit of focusing on the positives in life, rather than being caught up in negative thoughts.
Encourage your child to complete the following four simple sentence prompts each evening for at least one week. You could use a new page in the book for each day, and invite your child to add a drawing or photograph to represent a highlight of their day. The prompts are:
- One thing I did great today was…
- One thing that made me feel good was…
- I felt proud about myself when…
- I helped someone by…
These activities can help children build the foundations of authentic, healthy self-esteem that they can continue to nurture and protect throughout their life. Telling children to simply “think positive” may not always work since children need time to learn how to do something.
Children benefit from parents and caregivers taking the time to teach/show them how to be positive and turn a negative into a positive. Children feel more than they think. Drawing them into activities that highlight their attributes, abilities and self-worth is an effective way to learn.
As their trusted and loving parent, you have great capacity to influence how your child feels about themselves. As a parent, you are also an important role model, demonstrating coping when facing both positives and negatives in your everyday life. Use these activities as tools, and sparks for conversation as you help your child celebrate themselves with their unique book.
A retinoblastoma patient and sibling enjoy creating their unique personal story books during a retinoblastoma child life program in Calgary, Canada, 2019.