By Ashley Smith
When I was in the third grade, I had a hard time memorizing multiplication facts, and that struggle was reflected in a less-than-stellar math grade. I clearly remember how scared I was bringing my report card home, because I had to admit that I didn’t measure up. And, at the tender age of 8 years old, my self-worth hung in the balance of a grade that doesn’t matter at all today.
You may recall a similar situation in your own past, and wonder how you will help your children navigate through the trials of their childhood while building a strong sense of self. Here are several ideas to get you started:
Set a Good Example – It’s no surprise that children learn by watching their parents. They replicate our walk and speech patterns. They also adopt our self-talk and body image (girls especially). So, when you’re frustrated with yourself and tempted to say, “I’m never going to figure this out” or “Why am I so stupid?” try saying something more positive like, “This may be tough, but I can do it!” Also, be attentive to how you communicate about your own body image. Resist talking about dieting or losing weight in front of your child, instead, opt for discussions about healthy eating and strength. And when your best friend compliments your new outfit, say “Thank you” instead of talking about how you wish you looked better. Your kids will notice and follow suit.
Give your Child Age – Appropriate Responsibilities – Think about how good you feel after a hard day’s work. A child can experience a similar sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves when they contribute to the family by sorting laundry, taking out the trash, or cooking supper. This is a double-shot of self-esteem because they are not only helping the family, but they are also mastering useful life skills.
Catch them Being Good – Is he playing quietly in his room? Is she being kind to her sister? If you like what you’re seeing, tell them so! If a behavior is praised, it is more likely to happen again. A quick whisper of something like, “I see how nice you’re being to your sister. Great job!” will give her the confidence to know that she can make positive choices and those choices will be noticed.
Teach your Child to Care about Others – A healthy sense of self is only complete when it is paired with a healthy value of others. A great place to teach a child to consider others is at a restaurant. If the child is being noisy, lean down and quietly ask them to look around at the other guests. Tell the child that the other guests have paid money to have a meal prepared for them so that they can spend time talking with their families. Remind the child that it is his responsibility to make sure he is not disrupting their family time by being too loud. And when he quiets down, be sure to catch him being good.
Praise your Child just for being them – This is one of the most important ways to build a healthy self-image. Saying things like, “I like spending time with you,” “I’m so glad I get to be your mom/dad,” and “I’ll love you forever, no matter what” leaves a big deposit of positive affirmation in their hearts, so that when a difficult trial comes, they can be comforted by the memory of those important words said by the most important person in their life.
As clearly as I remember the fear of bringing that report card home, I also distinctly recall what happened next. My mom drove me to the gas station to get a Coke. While we were driving, she reminded me of the subjects I excelled in, and that until multiplication reared its ugly head, I was also a pretty good math student. She told me that this was a minor setback and she knew just the tutor that could help me get back on track. Most importantly, she told me she believed in me, and that is exactly what I needed to hear so that I could start believing in myself again too.
Ashley G. Smith, MAMFT, LPC, is a counselor in private practice with Madison Counseling where she works primarily with parents and children, and leads support groups for children and teens with food allergies. You can contact Ashley by phone at 769.231.9914 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.