Raising Children To Feel Good About Themselves:
“The psyche of a child is as delicate as the wings of a butterfly. In order soar to its greatest heights, it must be nurtured with great care and nourished with unconditional love.”
Parenting is perhaps the most important role we will undertake and yet, as a society, we seem to place insufficient value on its importance. As a result, we receive little or no training in the proper way to parent. Effective parenting however, is crucial, because the manner in which each generation parents its children determines, not just the quality of their lives, but the future of mankind.
It is said that 95% of a person’s psychological makeup occurs by the time they reach 7 years of age, so clearly parents play a critical role in the development of their children. Therefore, it is vital that parents receive the essential training and education in order to raise their children properly.
We all want what’s best for our children. We want them to do well. We want them to be happy and successful. It seems though we don’t know how to go about making that happen. We wonder why our children behave in a certain way. Why they don’t do the things we want them to. It bewilders us and makes us believe we’re doing something wrong.
Herein lies the problem. For virtually everything we do, we are taught how to do it. We go to school. We take lessons and workshops. We read a manual. But how many of us do this before we have children or while we’re raising them? Hmmm, I don’t see many hands up!
So, what do we do?
First, we have to have a plan, and that plan begins with an objective. An objective gives us direction so that we can develop a culture and framework that is conducive to achieving our goal. It also allows us to develop a protocol and a set of techniques for dealing with certain situations.
Let’s begin with our objective? I believe that the most important thing for our well-being for each one of us, each day of our lives, is how we feel about ourselves … that we have high self esteem (a positive self image). That we feel lovable, worthy, adequate and empowered.
When we feel good about ourselves, we generally lead happy, healthy lives and we do things we love. What is more, we are able to handle crisis with common sense, optimism, grace and dignity.
If a positive self image is the most important thing then it would seem natural that our primary objective as a parent would be to raise our children to feel good about themselves. And who wouldn’t want their child to feel lovable, worthy, adequate and empowered?
Children who don’t feel good about themselves quite often grow up to be bullies, abusers, codependents, control-freaks, alcoholics, addicts, workaholics, criminals, drifters and rescuers. They invariably develop physical and mental health issues. They feel inferior and insecure. What is more, they grow up holding enormous anger. And this anger consumes. It often leads to destructive, self sabotaging behaviours. It affects their lives greatly as well as the lives of the people around them. It drains their energy. They suffer. It is essential then that parents do everything they can to ensure that they are doing their part to raise children that have high self esteem. It is the single most important responsibility of every parent.
Now, once we’ve established our objective, we need to do the following:
- create a culture in our home that is in alignment with our objective;
- make a commitment and devise a plan to be as present as possible in our children’s lives;
- determine an effective parenting strategy;
- determine appropriate protocols to handle specific situations.
Creating a culture in our home that is in alignment with our objective begins with identifying the characteristics and values of a family that are conducive to helping a child develop high self esteem. These include, unconditional love, compassion, acceptance, understanding, patience, forgiveness, kindness, encouragement, optimism and most importantly, nurturing.
Imagine how you would have felt and what your childhood would have been like if this had been the culture in your home. How awesome would that have been?
It is crucial that everyone in your home, including parents, siblings and grandparents (if they live with you), as well as guests, are aware of your values. Children desire consistency, so it is essential that everyone is on the same page, including daycare workers and teachers.
Making a commitment to be present:
Next, we need to make a commitment to being as present as possible in our children’s lives, particularly during the formative years. We need to be involved. Studies have shown that the more present parents are, the more a child develops a sense of security and self.
In today’s world of high divorce rates, single parent households, dual income families and daycare, however, this is a significant challenge. Parents need to earn an income and many may find themselves in the midst of successful, demanding careers, so again, we need to have a plan, and our plan needs to fit our specific circumstances based on whether we’re married, separated or single.
Now that we’ve created a nurturing culture and committed to a strategy of being present as much as possible, we next need to determine what type of parenting strategy to employ. As both a child and parent of the old reward & punishment style of parenting, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t work. It is not conducive to raising children to feel good about themselves. This type of authoritative-permissive parenting simply teaches children to not behave in a certain way for fear of being punished or to behave in a certain way in order to receive a reward. It does not teach them to behave in a certain way simply because it is the appropriate thing to do.
In order to determine the most effective parenting strategy we need to understand what children ‘really’ want. We may for instance think that what they want most are material things. We may think they want video games, toys, sweets and junk food. This is false thinking. What children want most is to be loved, wanted, accepted and appreciated, especially by their parents. They want parents who are present. They want nurturing, They want to be treated with respect. They want understanding, not judgment. They want guidance, not orders. They want encouragement, not smothering. They want boundaries and reasonable consequences because these things show that you care. They also want structure and leadership. They need to know that you are in charge.
Reward and punishment parenting does not give children what they really. In fact, it gives them the opposite. A more effective style of parenting is commonly referred to as, democratic parenting. Democratic parenting emphasizes respect, understanding, dialogue and all the other elements necessary in order to raise children to feel good about themselves.
It is important to remember that children act out, not because they are inherently bad, but rather because they don’t feel good about themselves. They crave attention because they are feeling insecure. Punishing them for acting out simply makes them feel worse. It makes them feel more isolated.
Here’s an example of authoritative parenting. Let’s say your son is playing with his toy trucks and he’s bashing them together.
Father: “Stop doing that.”
Father: “Because I said so.”
What was accomplished by this exchange? Did the child learn that his behaviour was inappropriate and why? No, he just learned that his father is boss and whatever father tells him to do, he must do. This child will likely continue to behave inappropriately, because he will never learn to think about the consequences of what he is doing before he does it.
A democratic parenting approach on the other hand, might go like this:
Father: “Why are you doing that Devon?”
Son: “Because I like the sound it makes.”
Father: “Did you know that if you keep doing that, you are likely going to break your toys, and then you won’t have them to play with any more.”
Son: “Oh. I didn’t think of that. I guess I should stop.”
Now, the son might have said, “I don’t care,” in which case you could have responded any number ways, such as, “Okay, but if you break them, that’s your responsibility and I won’t replace them,” or “Well, you know, the noise is really bothering me, so I would appreciate it, if you would stop.”
Children might also behave in a certain to see what they can ‘get away with,’ or because they might not know better. Simply punishing them for this behaviour does not encourage them to think about what they are doing or consider the consequences. It teaches them to live in fear.
Democratic parenting requires presence, dialogue, patience and commitment. It might involve more of your time in the beginning because you will need to ask questions and provide explanations, but it will pay off huge dividends in the long run with improved behaviour.
Protocols for specific situations:
Now that you’ve settled on a parenting strategy, it’s a good idea to have a few protocols in place, that are applied generally and in specific situations, for instance, when you’re out in public, visiting friends or sitting at the dinner table. Explain which behaviours are appropriate and which are inappropriate, and what consequences will be if your child behaves inappropriately.
In the martial arts classes I teach, I explain to the students that in order to be a member of the class they need to do two things: listen to instructions and try their best. I also tell them that there two things they are not allowed to do: disrupt the class by not listening or talking when an instructor is speaking or by bothering or harming another student. I explain that if they do these things, I will ask them to do 5 pushups in order to remind them that their behaviour is inappropriate and that if they continue to behave in this manner, I will ask them to go sit with their parents (I can assure you, that 99.9% of the time, these kids do not want to go sit with their parents).
The same strategy can be applied at home. If a child behaves inappropriately, after you have explained what types of behaviour are appropriate and what are not, you can send the child to a ‘time out’ area (away from TVs and other distractions) for one minute. Time them. Then tell them why you sent them to the time out area. If it happens again, send them for two minutes, and so on.
When our children were young, we had a rule that fighting was not allowed in the house. Disagreements were to be resolved by talking. One time (it was the middle of the winter … seriously) our daughters got into a fight. So we made them put on their boots and go outside, wearing only their pajamas. It wasn’t long before they apologized to each other and asked to come back in the house, and they never did it again … seriously!
Parents need to establish boundaries and teach their children that when they cross those boundaries, there are consequences…not punishments…consequences, such as a loss of privileges. For strategies and tips on how to deal with specific behaviours and parenting situations, read Honey I Wrecked the Kids, by Alison Schafer or check out her website at alison.ca. I would also suggest reading The Parenting Book, by Nicky and Sila Lee, and Democratic Parenting, by Blaise T. Ryan.
A few other things to consider:
Continually tell your child how much you love them. Demonstrate how much you love them. Hug them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Show an interest in what they do. Support them. Show your children that they are important to you. Spend time with them, playing games and interacting with them…not with a cell phone glued to your ear or your fingers feverously typing text messages…with your attention totally focused on your child. Whatever the activity you choose, make sure it is something your child wants to do. Don’t force them to do something you like, if it is of no interest to them. This will not lead to a positive experience. It will only lead to conflict and unhappiness.
Be complimentary. Tell them how wonderful they are. Compliment them on their positive characteristics. Tell them you love that they are so patient, forgiving, helpful, thoughtful, sensitive, caring, fun and sensible. Tell them you love watching them do things; play hockey, baseball, soccer or figure skate, draw and create.
Allow your child to express themselves—both their opinion and feelings—and let go of the notion that you are always right. Teaching a child to express their opinion helps them to feel worthy and adequate. What is more, it teaches them to stand up for themselves.
Encourage your child to express their feelings. It is extremely critical. We need to allow our children to cry and to express anger or whatever feelings they’re feeling in a constructive way. They need to know that this is okay, particularly when they are in the safety of their home. When children express their feelings they let them go. Far too often, parents tell their children that it’s not okay to cry. Perhaps the parents are afraid of being embarrassed. Perhaps they weren’t allowed to cry when they were a child. When you don’t allow yourself to feel and express sadness, eventually, you will also not be able to fully feel and express happiness. The suppression of one, blocks the other—that’s just the way it works. Allow your children to express. Perhaps they can teach you to do the same.
Encourage them to talk openly about any subject, especially the sensitive ones—sexuality, body parts, racism, homosexuality, nudity, masturbation, puberty, divorce, financial matters and death. This teaches them not to fear or hide things.
Encourage your child to do things—be it fix a toy, bake a cake, climb a tree, walk to school by themselves or whatever. This teaches them to feel that they are capable of doing anything. It teaches them to feel good enough and it teaches them to be adventurous.
Allow your child to make age appropriate decisions. This teaches them to take charge of their life. It empowers them.
Apologize to your children when you treat them inappropriately. It frees you of guilt and teaches them to apologize. Remember, you’re not infallible. You’re allowed to ‘make mistakes.’ There is no shame in apologizing. In fact, the opposite is true. It frees you from emotional pain.
When your child does something that is inappropriate or not in their highest good, before you jump all over them, ask them why they did it…and do so in a calm, compassionate manner. Take whatever time is necessary to help them understand why it was inappropriate; “Because I said so,” might not be the most constructive approach. Children are incredibly smart and they learn very quickly what gets their parents’ attention. Quite often, it is negative behaviour … how often do parents compliment a child who is playing quietly … so understand that inappropriate behaviour is quite often simply a way of getting attention? If you’re not sure how to handle a situation or if you are feeling too angry to be calm and rational, it might be best not to say anything. Wait until you are feeling calm. Avoid knee jerk reactions that are based in anger. Ask for help if you need it. Nobody expects parents to have all the answers.
In order to raise children to feel good about themselves, parents need to avoid: being judgmental; harshly punishing; criticizing; spoiling; verbally abusing; treating children in a derogatory way; being controlling; abandoning; teasing; bully; placing unreasonable expectations on; telling children how they should live their lives—especially their teenage children; telling their children they’re better than everyone else; coercing or mistreating their children in any way. These behaviours will destroy your child’s self confidence and sense of self worth.
Teach your children about values and boundaries, so that they will understand when they are being mistreated and when to stand up for themselves. In order to do this, you first need to understand your own core values. What do you value: integrity, respect, honesty, spirituality, wisdom, fun, order or perhaps, simplicity? You will also need to set a good example. Live according to your values and stand up for them. When someone crosses your boundaries, deal with it in an appropriate manner.
It is important not to spoil your children with material things or by doing everything for them. It creates false expectations and sets them up for failure, especially in relationships.
For parents with children with special challenges such as autism, aspergers and ADHD, it is extremely important to become as educated as possible about your child’s condition. Learn not just about the condition, but also about Indigo and Crystal children because chances are, your child is one of them. Understanding the true nature of your child will help you connect with them, which will create a more joyful relationship.
It is also important to be careful what you say to your children. Your words are very powerful and play a significant role in shaping your child’s belief systems. Your fears and faulty beliefs can become theirs, particularly as it relates to strangers, money, sexuality, education and spirituality. Take time to choose your words carefully and be aware of how they might affect your child.
Parents need to set a good example. Be kind, generous, honest, grateful, patient and forgiving, both in the home and out in public. Always act with integrity. Eat healthy foods and get regular exercise.
One of the challenges parents face in raising their children to feel good about themselves, is when parents have low self esteem, usually because of how they were raised. This makes it difficult indeed, because parents will constantly be triggered by their children’s behaviour. When your child does something that would have gotten you punished by your parents, chances are you’re going to want to punish your child.
When you are being triggered, before you take action with your child, ask yourself why you are being triggered. Is it because you are afraid of being judged by others for your parenting skills? Is it because you are worried that another adult is going to get upset with your child’s behaviour? Or is it because you don’t feel good about yourself? Is there a part of you that is stuck in emotional pain from your own childhood woundings? If you are not able to interact with your children in a positive manner; if you find yourself getting angry; if you yell at, criticize, harshly punish or mistreat your children in any way; I urge you to seek professional help. There is nothing to be ashamed of—nothing to feel bad about—in fact, it takes courage to reach out for help, and your entire family will benefit.
I believe you can also help your child feel good about themselves by understanding the higher purpose of why they have come into your life and also by understanding the truths of human existence. From a spiritual perspective, I believe that our children come into our lives in part to bring our attention to the things we don’t like about ourselves. They show us our fears and character flaws, the beliefs we need to change and the woundings we need to heal. They are here to teach us. If you are a sensitive person, and you’ve had it ‘beaten’ out of you, chances are you are going to have one or more extremely sensitive children.
They also choose us to help them on their own spiritual journeys and with their own life lessons. They are here to help us learn the truths of who we really are and why we’re really here. Indigo and Crystal children in particular are here to help guide us towards a different way of living—one that is more in harmony with sustaining a healthy planet.
We live in a complex, fast-paced world, rife with difficulties. The institution of marriage is disintegrating. Divorce rates exceed 50%. For the majority of families, both parents are working. Children spend a great deal of time in daycare. Raising children to feel good about themselves is challenging under the best of circumstances. Today, it is a huge challenge, and it requires our commitment and determination.
If you are a parent, teacher, coach, manager, daycare worker, police officer or involved any other activity or profession that entails interacting with children, you play a pivotal role in the development of a child and you can benefit enormously from understanding the importance of raising children to feel good about themselves and taking the necessary steps to do so.
As a last word, please remember this, when you look at your children, always know that in every moment, they are doing the best they can with what they’ve learned. If they learn to live with love, compassion, acceptance, gratitude, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, patience and understanding, and they will respond in kind. They will feel good about themselves and that is how they will live their lives.