Dear 100 Hour Board,
I'm newly called as a young women's leader at church. I think a lot of my girls struggle with self esteem, which is something I know a lot of women struggle with, but I've never had a problem with it. How do I help them with things that I've never experienced?
What has helped you increase your self esteem?
First, do things to show you care. I had a young women's leader that would hand make us birthday cards every year (I'm from a pretty small ward) with our favorite colors and some of our favorite things. I still have all of them and they make me smile. She made me feel loved and valuable and worth people's time and effort.
Second, I know they're doing away with Personal Progress (right?) but you can still pull out the information from Divine Nature and Individual Worth and use those to help teach them. I know doing those experiences and writing about them really helped me.
Along those lines, I'll tell you what I did for my Divine Nature project, perhaps it could give you some ideas. A friend and I decided we wanted to leave our last girls camp with something special, and wanted each of the girls in our ward to know how much we loved them, and hopefully help them see why God loved them too. We pulled together the 4 laurels and wrote each young woman a note detailing things we loved about them. Their talents, inner beauty, personality, relationship with their family, ability to make people laugh, and what we thought some of their spiritual gifts might be. Then, we got a note from each of their parents doing the same, and a letter from both of their age-group young women's leaders. Then, we printed all of these out and included a message from the bishopric and a message from the First Presidency (out of the Personal Progress book) and bound them all together into a book that we decorated for each of the girls.
The whole point of that project was to show a little bit of Christlike love. For me, the most important step in loving myself was really understanding that Christ and Heavenly Father loved me. The next most important thing was to recognize that love for everyone else too. Learning to be happy for the joys and successes of my friends and peers eliminated my need to validate myself by comparing my accomplishments to others. When I finally internalized that lesson, I could feel good about myself. Make sure whenever you teach about God's love for them, you make a special point of highlighting the Atonement and repentance, but focus on the fact that God does not think they are not worth loving just because they make mistakes. There are great scriptural examples of Christ showing love for his daughters in the scriptures. Help them find those.
The relationship is the most important thing. Make sure that they feel like you like them! Do things that show that they are worthwhile: Let them know their feelings matter, their opinions matter, and that their needs and desires matter.
Also, stand up for them when people try to teach them crappy object lessons about chastity (or anything else, for that matter). When you do service, make sure it isn't token service.
Dear Shiny Window,
What a great question. I feel like I've had pretty good self esteem, but I had these Sunday School teachers who did an amazing job about making us feel loved that I would like to talk about.
Growing up, my ward had combined Sunday School for all the youth between 16-18. The class was taught by a couple in their 50's and they were so sweet. They were such good teachers that most of the 15 year olds would go to their class, and many youth would keep going to their Sunday School class after they'd graduated. This couple (we'll call them the So-and-So's) did a really good job teaching gospel principles, but what made them such good teachers was that they really cared about us.
One of the things they did was they asked every student about something that happened in their week at the start of every class. It didn't matter whether we had 10 people or 30 people, they took the time to ask everyone about their week. It wasn't just an exercise either, they were happy with us when good things happened, and they were sad with us when something bad happened. Furthermore, they remembered what we talked about. If we mentioned that we were fixing a car one week, they would ask about it the next week. If we mentioned that we had a sporting event or a dance recital, they would try and go. They gave us candy bars on our birthday, they threw a class party every year, and on and on. There are a lot of different ways they demonstrated that they really cared about us. We felt loved in that class room and it made us feel better about ourselves.
The other thing that they did really well is the first Sunday of every month, they would take the entire lesson to ask us what questions we had related to the topic for that month. They wrote down all of our questions and made sure they answered them throughout the month. They didn't judge us about the questions we asked. They never brushed off a question because it was uncomfortable, or controversial, or silly. We felt like Sunday School was a safe place to ask questions and have doubts. It made us feel comfortable with ourselves and with our doubts and struggles. We learned so much and they always prepared great answers for our questions.
I really loved Sunday School with brother and sister So-and-So. Everyone has different styles of teaching, but I think everyone can genuinely care for their students and listen to them without judgement. I think that if you can do those things then your young women will feel valued; and when the know that you value them, they will start to value themselves. Hope this helps! I'm sure you'll do a great job.
Plan activities that will help them celebrate the wonderful qualities they individually possess. If one girl is really good at art, ask if she’ll teach the basics of painting for mutual one evening. Ask another if she’ll organize a basketball tournament. Go to the mall so a girl can teach you how to find modest, fashionable clothing. Find a way to highlight each girl’s unique talents in a way that makes her feel valued and appreciated. Try to make each girl feel important. The writers above me have many wonderful suggestions for validating them and making them feel special and individual even within a potentially large group of young women.
Self-esteem is different for everyone, but I'm reasonably self-assured, in that I think I'm awesome and I generally love myself. However, my self-esteem is the most threatened when I don't feel emotionally close with anyone, and when I don't feel as though anyone really understands and appreciates me. That may not be an easy role to fill for teenage girls, but you can at least be there as a resource for them. Remind them that you love them, and give specific reasons why you do. Don't shy away from difficult topics and sincerely answer any questions they may have. Work with them on projects for personal improvement. But most of all, love them and be open about it.