How we communicate with our children is key to helping them develop unconditional self-love. Joanne Hay reveals how we can foster self-esteem and resilience in our kids
The digital age has opened us up to a whole new world. Social media creates unrealistic personal, social and lifestyle expectations, which can cause low self-esteem and feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Now, more than ever, is a time for us to teach our children important concepts of self-love in order for them to appreciate their own worth, accept themselves for who they are, and feel confident, just as they are. It’s never too soon for children to learn to love and accept themselves, empathise with others, have an open mind and so on.
Here are some ways we can teach our children these all important concepts.
Be a role model
Kids learn from watching the people around them, so we need to lead by example. We need to be mindful about what we say in front of them. For instance, if we constantly complain about being overweight, how can we expect our children to accept their bodies? The other day, my daughter, Skye, asked me to draw a unicorn and I mumbled, “Oh, I am not very good at drawing,” and she immediately corrected me by saying, “No Mummy, you are the best and I love you.” The truth is, I wasn’t even aware I was putting myself down. Now I am more mindful about how I self-talk in front of my children, which in turn, helps me boost my own self-esteem. What’s important is that we foster not just self-love but self-acceptance in our children. It is inevitable for kids to compare themselves to others because, in all fairness, adults do it all the time. A day will come when they realise other kids have more toys, newer phones, cooler shoes and bigger houses, and their selfesteem will be put to the test. We need to teach them to accept and embrace who they are. As an example, my daughter used to have a hard time with her hair; it’s beautiful but unruly and she hated having it brushed. Now though, we compare her hair to a lion’s mane and she shouts, “I love my crazy hair!”
Have you ever spoken to someone and have them nod or even simply ignore you, while mindlessly scrolling through their phones? How did that make you feel? Annoyed? Hurt? Invisible? Children need to grow up with a sense of belonging and significance, so we must pay attention to them and listen to them. I read somewhere: “If you don’t listen to the little things when they are little, they won’t tell you the big things when they are big.” This really scared me. I realised that when my daughter showed me her artwork, I used to thank her and immediately put it to one side. Now, I excitedly ask her to
tell me about her drawings and the concept behind them. I listen to every word she says very carefully.
To understand how our children feel, we need to try to see the world from their perspective. For example, when they fall down and graze a knee, we should refrain from saying, “You’re okay! Don’t cry, it doesn’t hurt that much.” Although we might have good intentions, this type of response invalidates their feelings and suppresses their emotions. One time when my daughter fell off her scooter, I said to her, “It’s okay to cry. Mummy cries when she falls hard!” Skye was really surprised and said, “Really? You cry too?” “Of course,” I said. “If it really hurts. But what matters is we get up again, and we keep trying!” Skye immediately got up, wiped away her tears and hopped back on her scooter.
We need to avoid criticising our children, especially in public, as it can be traumatising – it can make them feel ashamed and worthless. Instead of scolding them, we can choose to empower them by implementing positive discipline techniques. Remember there are no bad kids, just bad behaviours. For instance, instead of hurting your children’s egos by telling them they are untidy, say,“I would like you to tidy your room.” Rather than focusing on what your children did wrong, show them how to set things right.
Don’t think that because you’re a parent, you don’t have to apologise, or that to do so would be a sign of weakness. It’s crucial to show children that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that we all need to find the courage within ourselves to say sorry in order to find a way to move forward. When your children have done something wrong and say they are sorry, talk about their motivations and the impact their behaviour has had on others. But most importantly, remember to tell them,“I forgive you.” If our children feel safe and unconditionally loved, they will not be afraid to tell the truth.
If they are brought up to be honest about their feelings, thoughts and behaviours, they will grow into empowered adults. It won’t happen overnight but if we define the values that are important to us, we can model them and share them with our kids. The first step is to recognise that we need to accept our children for who they are, so they can learn to love and accept themselves.