Developing a Positive Self-image in a post-pandemic world


It is the child’s feeling about being loved or unloved that affects how he will develop. 

Dorothy Briggs

Some ideas from international research which might assist mentors as they strive to help their mentees develop positive self-worth in a post-pandemic global community in which young people are likely to value a wise guide moving alongside them more than ever before:


  • help mentees feel valued as unique individuals. Ask them to help you with something. This will boost their self-worth.
  • encourage your mentees to connect fully with their schools or their places of work or training.
  • help mentees on the adolescent journey of becoming more independent; teach mentees to take responsibility for tasks that might previously have been done by someone else. Teach mentees the skills for performing the tasks.
  • accept and appreciate mentees as people even though you may not accept their behavior (unconditional love and care).
  • affirm your mentees by making positive comments about their appearance, intelligence, abilities; reinforce the good qualities that make them unique and special.
  • teach respect for the opposite sex; discuss gender issues that concern them and seek professional help if you feel uncomfortable discussing all aspects of a challenging topic.
  • take opportunities to talk with mentees about issues such as fairness, right and wrong, consideration for others, responsibility.
  • help every mentee to feel understood. Encourage your mentees to express their beliefs verbally and in writing without fear of being put down or judged.
  • display empathy to your mentees (the ability to show that the mentor knows and feels what it is like to be another person).
  • help set specific, measurable, intentional, limited, extending, realistic and achievable goals with a clear action plan. Celebrate achievements together. Encourage your mentees to do things they enjoy or that make them feel good. The satisfaction of creating something, completing a project, achieving a goal are the best builders of self-esteem.
  • allow mentees to make mistakes in an environment that is as safe as possible (both emotionally safe from destructive criticism and physically safe from danger to themselves or others), and help mentees learn from them
  • be prepared to lead in keeping the lines of communication open, especially during times of conflict.
  • discuss the importance of boundaries, thus protecting the mentee from situations they might not be able to deal with.
  • show trust in your mentees. You need to work at establishing this trust. It’s an important process during the mentoring journey on the way to establishing a two-way relationship.
  • accept your mentees’ feelings and communicate your feelings to your mentees so they don’t have to guess. Keep coaching your mentees on ways to control and express their feelings. Help them to articulate their feelings and watch their body language.
  • encourage mentees to move out of their comfort zones with your support and belief in them.
  • encourage mentees to participate in activities that require cooperation, rather than competition alone, so you can focus on effort rather than performance.
  • respect mentees for who they are; respect their privacy. Mutual respect is likely to foster trust and confidence.
  • encourage your mentees to attend meetings about community issues, where they can gain first-hand experiences of how people stand up for their beliefs and how they assert their own positions as well.
  • help your mentees to see other options. Often they don’t see the ‘exits’ when they are on a wobble. You can guide them how to make sense of the confusion.
  • teach mentees that they need to learn to cope with longer periods of effort before any rewards might be evident (delayed gratification).
  • expect the best in your mentees. This will help them develop an “I can!” attitude toward dealing with tough problems.
  • encourage your mentees to move around with positive friends (peers), friends (and adults) who like them and care about them. Encourage them to stay away from negative people and those who treat them badly (whenever possible).
  • give practical assistance, support and feedback to your mentees, who are in the process of forming their self-image. Effective feedback facilitates change – no lecturing, insulting, ridiculing, labelling, exaggerating, patronizing, sarcasm, inducing of feelings of guilt; or trying to force mentees to do something. Don’t dominate the conversation. Be shockproof! Be transparent. Allow time.
  • you must be able and willing to reveal your own personality to your mentees without fear. Sometimes this will help empathy – you’ve been there, done that, learnt from that experience.
  • catch, observe and praise things your mentees do well.
  • watch TV, videos, films with your mentees and use the opportunity to discuss assertive, aggressive and non-assertive behavior.
  • be spontaneous and natural when relating with your mentees.
  • be protective and angry on your mentee’s behalf when they meet injustice (e.g. being bullied; put down by a teacher or another adult, or are unfairly discriminated against).
  • remind your mentees that they don’t have to be perfect to feel loved and capable.
  • have fun and take pleasure in each other’s company.
  • it’s okay for your mentees to experiment, as long as this does not pose any serious risk to life, health or values.
  • encourage your mentees to make good choices for themselves, not allowing others to make their choices for them.
  • encourage your mentees always to do what they believe is right and supports their values.
  • remember, you must have a healthy and positive self-image. Model caring and optimistic views of the future. Good self-esteem is contagious. Keep building your own self-esteem.
  • talk about matters of healthy living and spirituality, important topics for young people to reflect on.
  • consistently model basic values and standards and make sure you are in the relationship for your mentees!!
Teaching your mentees self-control and strength of character will help them more than just telling them, “You’re great!” Their first job is to learn the rules, then to follow them and to succeed by them. Then they can have just reason for feeling good about themselves; and they won’t resent it, or turn violent, if somebody questions their worth.
Ian Grant (adapted)