Helping your child to like and believe in themselves is one of the most important life tools …
If your child does not feel kindly towards themselves, they will be exposed to the worst critic on the planet. The hidden voice that can see all their shortcomings. The hidden voice that lacks so profoundly in self-esteem that it compares feelings against how everybody else looks so that every time they come off worse. The lack of self-esteem that says there’s something wrong with me, hide it, change it. A lack of self-esteem (or self-loathing) is the single most influential factor in a person’s right to treat themselves badly.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is saying ‘I matter’, and believing it. I don’t matter more than you or less than you; I just matter too. It is about accepting that I am flawed and being as interested in those flaws as I am in my skill set. It’s about accepting that I am good at some things and I’m allowed to succeed. It’s about being curious about myself, about what I feel and what I do. It’s about being kind to myself so that I can grow and learn. It’s about taking care of my basic needs because I deserve that attention. It’s about feeling good enough in my own skin so that I have time, space and capacity to be interested and generous in the world. As a parent if I want these things for my child I must risk attempting learning them for myself first, so I can show the way.
Is it the same as confidence?
It is easy to say self-confidence is the same as self-esteem. It can look like you believe that you matter if you are prepared to stand up and be counted, put yourself forward, speak up for yourself and be seen. But interestingly for some, standing up and being confident can be an effective hiding place for poor self-esteem as they hide in the distraction of performance. Often when I’ve worked with people in the world of celebrity is quite common to find a façade under which a much more fragile, insecure persona exists.
Perhaps the world of celebrity attracts exactly these kinds of people who seek affirmation from others as a way of shoring up their own sense of worth. But this then creates a dependence as without that platform the person might feel worthless. This is just as common in school with the class clown or at home with the one who plays the fool or shows off. Would it be such a huge leap to see the insecurity that craves the attention, that seeks to control what others think by making so much noise
Why is self-esteem important?
An absence of self-esteem is likely to translate into a range of ‘all or nothing’ behaviours because the baseline regulator, my relationship with myself, is damaged or compromised. Without a sense of worth irrespective of what I do or don’t do, without an investment in myself as potentially useful or interesting in the world, without a sense of care about myself, I am unlikely to take proper care of myself, may expose myself to dangerous or harmful situations and at the very least feel lost.
As a parent you need to be aware of your own experience of self-esteem, so you can see the part you are playing in your relationship with your child and adjust it to stay connected and accessible. But keep an eye on your child too and how they seem to feel about themselves by how they behave. It’s an early sign that you might want to act on.
How do we teach or encourage self-esteem?
So often I meet parents who are frustrated in their attempts to teach their children self-esteem, describing how their child becomes frustrated and irritated whenever they try to give them a compliment or affirm them in some way.
The first step in promoting self-esteem in another is to consider your presence as the messenger. Do your words hold weight? Are you teaching ‘do as I say not as I do’, or do you practice what you preach. In other words, will your child want what you’ve got, because if they don’t, they are less likely to do what you suggest. Sometimes the feeling of offence a parent feels when their child won’t be reassured by them is a truthful indicator of where a part of the problem lies. Developing your own core of self-esteem is a powerful step towards promoting the same in your child.
You also need to trust your child to come up with their own solutions. Remember, rescue creates a victim. In giving your child the answer, you confirm that you don’t believe they will come up with it themselves. Ask your child what they want to do about it, what thoughts they have – brainstorm, including the funny ideas and ask if you can keep talking about it and how it goes. Let them know you’re there to help by listening or commenting. They will face many problems in life and always seeking an answer might suggest that there is a life to be had that is without problems!
If you struggle with this, it may be because you struggle with seeing your child struggle and if that’s the case I would suggest you take this seriously enough to work it through. Whether on your own or with a therapist try to think about why you cannot tolerate witnessing someone struggle.
Understanding what happened to you will help you to understand why you cannot tolerate witnessing your child’s difficulties, and separate their process from your own, so that you become more resilient and tolerant of your child’s growing up process and more useful to them as a result. Struggling can be a good thing. It can be a way to develop strength and personal perspective in relation to friends, peers and environment and is a lot better than not struggling or giving up. Pain can be a great teacher as long as it is properly managed or contained.
Practice makes perfect, and the more you are able to encourage your child to attempt things that might be difficult the better as long as success is measured as much in terms of learning and attitude as in outcome. If your child approaches a challenge in their esteem they can learn without feeling shamed, try without feeling stupid, want without feeling needy and ask without feeling a burden – because they accept they are ‘only’ human, no better and no worse than anyone else, just themselves, and this can start in their relationship with you!
Proactive Parenting: Help your child conquer self-destructive behaviours and build self-esteem by Mandy Saligari is published by Orion Spring, out now.
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