Many children with epilepsy feel anxious about getting out of the house and trying new things. Besides the fear of having a seizure away from home, many kids worry about being stigmatized. Research shows kids with epilepsy often have lower self-esteem than others.
The good news is that there are many things that parents or carers can do to provide help for children with epilepsy and boost their confidence. Here are some simple tips to get started.
Think about your own attitude to your child’s epilepsy
Epilepsy has been described as a ‘disorder of anticipation’. Although seizures can be severe, most children with epilepsy are able to live perfectly normal lives most of the time. Nevertheless, many parents develop real anxieties about when the next seizure might happen. This anxiety can transfer into the verbal and non-verbal messages they send their children about what they can and can’t do.
Try to think about the language you use around your child's epilepsy. And how your own attitudes may affect your child’s beliefs about what they can do. Try to focus on the positives as much as possible.
Related: 5 tips for caring for a child with epilepsy
Talk to your child about their goals (and anxieties)
What does your child really want to do? It might be a simple-sounding question, but it’s helpful to communicate often with your child about what’s going on and how they’re feeling.
- Does your child really want to do certain activities outside of the home?
- What skills would they like to learn?
- Which interests do they wish to develop?
- What are they afraid might happen if they try new things?
- Who are they afraid of?
- Why do they believe they can or cannot do certain activities?
- Do they not want to do new things because of epilepsy, or is it something else?
Inspiration: Read our interview with basketball legend and epilepsy advocate Mike Simmel
Help for children with epilepsy to boost confidence
When it comes to building your child’s confidence, there are many things that parents or carers of kids with epilepsy can do. Here are just a few things to try:
Use the power of ‘yet’
Many children will tell parents and carers that they simply can't do certain things. You can counter this view by using the power of ‘yet’.
- Example: Amy says her epilepsy means she simply can’t dance, so will not be joining a dance group. But Amy's mom reminds her of the power of yet: “you can't dance yet, but with a few lessons you’ll be able to!”
Praise effort not talent
When parents praise children, it is very common to focus on notions of inherent talent. The idea that they are born with certain abilities. If your child has low self-esteem, it can be much more effective to focus on praising them for their efforts.
- Example: Jamal has agreed to go to a softball club after school. While he found the activity difficult, his mother praised him for trying. And so, the next week he went again and got a little better.
Write an ‘I can’ list
Children with low self-esteem often focus on their weaknesses. It can therefore be helpful to write a list of things they can do to remind them of their abilities.
- Example: Donny’s father sits down with his son one day and they write a list of things he can do. From tying his laces through to playing video games really well.
Create an adventure diary
An adventure diary can be a great help for children with epilepsy. It lists all their successes and achievements. It can serve as a reminder of how far they have come.
- Example: Carmela's mom notices she is seeming sad at the moment. Before they go to bed, they read from Carmela’s adventure diary. Which reminds her of the many wonderful things she has achieved.
Get inspired: Football player Alan Faneca’s story
Do dress rehearsals
If your child is worried about how to be confident in school or other social environments, dress rehearsals can be a great solution. During a dress rehearsal, you and your child simply practice out what is likely to happen, and what they can say in a situation.
- Example: Ernesto is preparing to go to high school for the first time, and he's worried about telling his new teachers about his epilepsy. Before school begins, Ernesto’s parents do a few dress rehearsals with him where they pretend to be the new teachers. He gets to practice talking to adults about his seizures and gains more confidence.
Positive role models
Seeing that other people with epilepsy have achieved great things can inspire them to feel more positive about themselves. That’s why we’ve written several articles on musicians, actors, athletes and famous historical figures with epilepsy.
- Example: Olivia is feeling down about having epilepsy. Her mom shows her some inspiring examples of people living with epilepsy who lead amazing lives.
Interview: Read rock star Jinxx’s experience of epilepsy
More help for children with epilepsy
If your child is struggling with self-confidence or low self-esteem related to their seizures, there are many ways of getting support. A good place to start is with your child's medical treatment team. They can provide you with information about support groups near you, epilepsy camps and clubs for kids with seizures.
With a little help for children with epilepsy, they can flourish and feel more confident in their abilities.