Self Esteem is of utmost importance. Why would you make healthy choices if you thought you didn't matter? Many children surviving with trauma have low or no self-worth, so our first focus is to build self-esteem. We believe that you must build self-esteem and trust before expecting a child to learn and apply themselves. This is very similar to how we work with horses in natural horsemanship.
All therapeutic equine facilities have their main programs. Whether it be riding, equine assisted learning or psychotherapy, what to do at the barn during sessions is usually pretty clear. But there are ways to be intentional about building self esteem with the time before, during and after all sessions. From the moment a child arrives to the moment they leave you can build self-esteem and fully utilize each session.
1. Start with Hello
Building self-esteem starts with hello. Make sure you are waiting for the child's arrival out in the driveway or in the entry area. Do this every time they come to your facility. When they arrive greet them, compliment them, and tell them you were waiting to see them! This helps them realize they matter and are worth your time!
2. Tell them something you remember
Referencing things they have told you in the past or things they did last session builds continuity of care and lets them know you think about them when they're away. Make an effort to remember exactly what they worked on last time. If they told you about a birthday party they were going to over the weekend, or a ball game they were playing in, try to remember to ask them how it went. This all builds self-esteem as you are showing them that they matter to you!
3. Practice compliments
Here's an idea for building self-esteem during your sessions. Task the child with; "every time you _________, say something positive about yourself." This could be, every time you reach the end of the arena, switch brushes, pass a fence post, really anything. The idea is to get the child to compliment themselves. You may be surprised at how difficult this is for some children to do. You can help them by complimenting them and role modeling some good answers. "You are really good at math," or "you are kind to your horse."
With this, you can turn any activity into a therapeutic one, even if it is filling water buckets or walking out to the pasture, you can add in some compliments and watch their self-esteem grow. This might take practice, but even more reason to do it often!
When a child starts to understand that he matters, that he has worth, he's able to build an identity that he is proud of. A child with good self-esteem makes choices that are aligned with this positive identity. If we can start building a child's sense of identity at the barn, this healthy perspective of themselves can translate to home, school and in the community.