Helping children value themselves
Too chunky, too Jewish, too sensitive: Michael Eisen was teased endlessly by classmates. He did not get the help he needed until years later, after his “super controlling” father had a breakdown and became a life coach.
It is a story he often shares with young people to help them build self-confidence and become more resilient.
“No matter how hard I tried, children found something to make me feel isolated and alone,” said Mr Eisen, who will speak at various Bermuda schools next week, courtesy of Ocean Rock Wellness and BF&M.
“Adults always tell children to tell a teacher if they’re being bullied, but often that makes it worse; then you’re even more isolated because you’re a tattletale. Back when I was in school, we didn’t talk about mental health and wellbeing, It wasn’t even on the table.”
The 33-year-old blames some of his problems on his father, Jeffrey, who was often too busy running the family’s steel company to spend time with him.
“He was driven by money, power and success when I was growing up. And when he was around, he was super controlling.”
He was a teenager when his father had a breakdown, and sought help.
“His life was transformed,” Mr Eisen said. “He became a life coach himself.”
Then 19, he was at a low point in life, constantly stressed and anxious.
He turned to his father for help, and became his client.
“Of course I felt that if he’d only done what he should have in the beginning, I wouldn’t be there needing his help,” Mr Eisen said.
“But as we worked together, all that resentment I had towards him started to disappear. For the first time in my life I felt like I was being supported and understood.
“When you are desperate for any kind of positive change, grudges start to melt away.”
Inspired, he started the Youth Wellness Network in Toronto, Canada, with his father as one of its chief advisers. In 2012 they released a book: Empowered YOUth: A Father and Son’s Journey to Conscious Living.
“He really provided the support for getting me where I am,” Mr Eisen said. “Our base philosophy is definitely the same.
“When we know who we are, we don’t need validation from anyone else.”
According to Mr Eisen, low self-esteem is a learnt behaviour that can be unlearnt.
“Problems of low self-esteem and bullying are present everywhere,” he said.
“Now more than ever, students are facing issues in class, through online and social media bullying. Our insecurities are being showcased publicly.
“We need to start paying attention and giving children the tools and strategies they need to self-regulate and treat each other better.
“People who bully others generally don’t feel good about themselves. They are not feeling loved, respected, seen, heard and understood. Being confident comes from a sense of self-love, self-respect and self-appreciation.”
Next week’s visit will be his second to the island. According to Mr Eisen, the social challenges here are the same as everywhere else.
“Wherever you go in the world, you see youth or adults who are struggling with loving, valuing and accepting themselves,” he said.
“That is one of the biggest things we all face.”
One of the downsides to his work is that he does not always get to see the outcome.
“Sometimes children will come up to me afterward and say I changed their lives,” he said.
“But in my line of work, I don’t often get to see a lot of the results. I plant the seed and give them the tools in how to turn those seeds into fully blossoming new people.
“I bounce around a lot between locations. I have always dreamt of having an impact on education systems, and I find it nice to see that finally happening.”
• Michael Eisen will give student workshops at Dellwood Middle School, TN Tatem Middle School, CedarBridge Academy, the Bermuda High School, Warwick Academy and Somersfield Academy, beginning Wednesday. Parents are invited to hear him speak at 5pm on Wednesday in the Kalmar Richards Conference Room at CedarBridge Academy. Admission is free. For more information, visit youthwellnessnetwork.ca