Improving Self-Esteem in Children Through Positive Psychology: An Interview With Stephanie Robert
Expat mum and children's author Stephanie Robert talks Emirates LitFest, her latest book, and her key advice parents need to help their kids emerge as confident children.
7 February 2021
"I witnessed how storytelling was a powerful technique to help children make sense of complex and difficult emotions..."
In this interview, we’re excited to have had the opportunity to get to know UAE-based mum and Emirates Airline Festival of Literature guest Stephanie Robert, the author behind the children's books Thiago's Shell and Stella's Song. We were fascinated by what Stephanie had to say about the role of positive psychology in childhood wellbeing.
Stephanie, who is a Brazilian-born Dubai expatriate, said: "I have had the pleasure to call Dubai my home for the past 29 years and feel very grateful for the lifestyle I have been fortunate enough to have here."
"Between choosing to spend time with my family (and extended family) at the beach or in the city or desert and being able to spend quality time with friends from a multitude of different cultures, Dubai is really a magical place to live and raise my family."
Her everyday life consists of finding a balance between supervising her two boys who are both homeschooling at the moment and carving out time to promote her books through reading sessions and workshops.
She strives to "find more time to sit down and write new stories". However, prioritizing a good catch up with family and friends is what really feeds and replenishes her soul.
"I often find myself by the beach or indulging in too many cups of coffee at one of my favourite places “The Surf House” which my brother, Scott Chambers happens to be the founder of," Stephanie added.
Q. What motivated you to start writing children’s books that connect with healthy development among kids? Was there a lightbulb moment?
"A lightbulb moment is almost an understatement actually, as I would describe the whole experience as more of a “download of inspiration”. It had been quite a build-up of emotional and psychological stress as a young mother of two, facing a multitude of challenges including increasing levels of anxiety in my eldest son.
This led me to find myself early one morning, sitting at a desk with an overwhelming urge to write. I was actually in tears with some sort of “emotional release” as I began to find the words which would soon make up the story of Thiago’s Shell."
A story that essentially was destined to help me connect with my son on a deeper level, in order to inspire him to overcome his anxiety and shyness. It was only after I felt the “shift” in him, and repeatedly asking me to repeat the story, that I realized I needed to share this story with more children. This is how my journey as a children’s author began."
Q. What is your best writing advice?
"My best writing advice is to resist the urge to “force” your writing.
I feel that inspired writing always has a special quality to it, as it is something that has stirred in us an urge to put pen to paper and usually this is much more authentic than feeling obliged or pressured to finish a writing piece.
There might of course be times when we are faced with a deadline, however if it is in your power, always choose a time to write when you are feeling that relaxed state of inspiration. Just like poetry really comes quite spontaneously, I feel we should honor all writing with this quality."
Q. ‘Stella’s Song’ is your second book. What is the story about?
"Stella’s Song is the beautiful adventure of a little elephant who travels through the jungle in pursuit of a new perspective.
Little does she know what a nap-time dream will reveal to her, transforming her self-esteem and sense of belonging. Stella’s Song is a message of self-love and realizing that we are all truly magnificent in our own unique way. You can expect an engaging and uplifting story, delivered in delightful illustrations."
Q. What was the scariest part of the publishing process for you – and the most rewarding?
"I think the scariest part of the publishing process was signing a publishing contract for my first book with the overwhelming feeling that I knew so little about the industry and having to just trust that the universe was leading me in the right direction. It was like a blind “Leap of Faith”.
I later realized that the irony is that every step we take, can either lead us backwards or forwards, but it’s not the direction that matters, it’s the lesson, every time!
The most rewarding part was having the courage to take the reins on my own, having built the knowledge I needed to self-publish my second book.
Seeing the whole process through a different lens, feeling the freedom to create a vision for this second book and seeing it through from start to finish is such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Needless to say, having my brother, Stephen Chambers as my illustrator also made the illustration process so magical as we really worked as a team.
You can never underestimate the value of family support. Feeling the encouragement from my husband, the constant belief that my mother has in my work, and my team of supporters from my children to my closest friends, I can’t help feeling overwhelmed with gratitude."
Q. Were your children in some way involved in the writing process for ‘Stella’s Song’, or did they read the book after it was done? If after, what were their reactions?
"Both my boys actually read the manuscript after I was finished writing, however, they were very much involved in the illustration process.
I think it is so important to have a child’s perceptive and they always have the most valuable creative input! Their reaction after reading the book was priceless as I could see their big smiles meant that they were very proud of me.
I always write my stories with my children and my nephews and nieces in mind, and to be honest, for both of my books, I would say all of them had in some way been part of the final product."
Q. Do you feel that motherhood and your background in Psychology gave you a different perspective on childhood/children’s literature? If so, how?
"Absolutely, yes. Both of my books, Thiago’s Shell and Stella’s Song are based on positive psychology principles and my desire to share uplifting stories which help children flourish and reach their true potential.
As I was studying psychology at university, I always had a sense of the huge significance that psychology played in early child development. I left university with a niggling feeling that no matter what, I wanted to work with children, to ensure their mental wellbeing from an early stage. Little did I know that once I became a mother, I would be faced with quite specific challenges for which I would be able to utilize my knowledge and passion towards.
This is the reason why I believe children’s literature is so interconnected with their development, because through my own experience I witnessed how storytelling was a powerful technique to help children make sense of complex and difficult emotions."
Q. What has been your most favourite review or comment of your work so far?
"I have had the honor of receiving very powerful and meaningful reviews from women who I admire and respect, notably the ones included in my book from Helen Williams, Joanne Jewell and Sheri Fink. However, I could never choose a favorite as these are all so special to me.
Perhaps it would be more relevant to say that my favorite review was from one of my little readers who simply said: “You are my favorite author, please promise you will keep writing more books”.
Now that is something I will always hold in my heart."
Q. You’ve recently wrapped up a workshop with Jojo's Art House at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. How was the experience?
"Our workshop at the Jameel Arts Centre was such a rewarding experience! To be able to bring together with Jojo’s Art House, our joint passions for mindfulness and creativity in such a beautiful and serene venue was literally a dream come true.
The workshop brought together the concepts of storytelling, guided meditation and artistic expression in a way that the children were slowly invited to ignite their imaginations, relax and then feel the total freedom to create. Being part of the Emirates Literature Festival again this year was an honor and something I always look forward to! Being able to join forces with Jojo’s Art House made it extra special."
Q. How do you think the UAE is empowering children's self-confidence here?
"The UAE is very proactive in empowering children and I believe every year this grows stronger and stronger. From the emphasis on “inclusion” in schools across the UAE to the vast array of extra-curricular activities offered which are so diverse, I believe the UAE has created an environment where all children can find and follow their passions.
Also, the KHDA are constantly encouraging the promotion of wellbeing in children, whether it is incorporating the concept of “character strengths” in the curriculums or developing mindfulness practices right in the classrooms, all of these initiatives are hugely empowering to the children of the UAE."
Q. What is your ultimate advice for parents, as a mum who believes in encouraging children to celebrate their individuality and to live their truest self?
"As parents I believe we need to strive to gravitate towards a more heart-centred approach to our roles. We need to focus on “Unconditional Love”.
This is not an easy task, however I always say just the awareness of this concept is the key. It is so natural to lose focus and our ‘reactions’ to situations will often be driven by heated emotions, judgments and expectations."
"So it is the “awareness” that really brings us back to a more grounded place to decide to handle things differently the next time. This sense of non-judgment towards our own reactions does a great deal of heavy lifting to remove the guilt we often feel as parents.
When we are operating from unconditional love, our focus turns towards bringing to light the self-limiting beliefs that our children keep silently in their hearts. Showing them that there is no judgement, no right or wrong way to be, that we love them exactly as they are is quite liberating.
This way, from an early age, our children can turn self-limiting beliefs around, and replace them with self-flourishing beliefs of empowerment!"
About the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is the Arab World’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word. The 2021 festival will be held across three weekends at three fantastic venues: January 29 - 30 at the Jameel Arts Centre, February 4 - 6 at InterContinental Dubai, and from February 29 - 30 at Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz.
The Festival will be fully compliant with all Covid-19 prevention regulations and guidelines from the Dubai Health Authorities, including social distancing measures across all three venues and mandatory masks.
The Festival is held with Founding Partners Emirates Airline and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), the Emirate’s dedicated authority for heritage, arts, and culture and under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai.
For the full list of authors, visit emirateslitfest.com/authors.