Your child comes bouncing down the stairs on a Monday morning ready for a quick breakfast before she’s off on her way to school.
You give her the once over as she tosses back her milk and pancakes.
She’s wearing that new shirt that she wanted along with the really cool pair of pants that she had to have for her birthday. Her hair is neatly cut and teeth are freshly brushed.
You feel pleased with yourself as you watch her head off for another day of school. You know that later this afternoon, you’ll be shuttling her off for soccer practice before you get dinner ready and prepare her for bed later that night.
That is the routine that most parents stick to every day all over this country. We want the best for our children so we buy them the things that they ask for and go out of our way to make them happy.
One week they want to be soccer players but by the next cheerleading is the new craze. As parents, we put up with the up and downs of being a parent because our ultimate goal is for our children to be happy.
A lot of parents will look at the above scenario and figure that this parent is doing all the right things, but there is something missing.
Teaching your child how to love themselves.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter that your child is wearing the latest clothes, shoes, a great athlete, or just an all around good kid.
It may be astonishing to you to find out that your child is being shunned by other children because there may be something “different” about them.
“I don’t understand! My child is a wonderful kid! Why would anyone want to pick on her?!.” you may think.
It is literally heartbreaking to watch your child come home from school, defeated from being taunted, excluded, teased, bullied, or having false rumors spread about them.
The bigger question is, how do you teach a child to love himself when you, as the parent, may have yet to learn that lesson?
Here is a bit of background information.
I was a precocious and bright eyed child growing up. I was extremely athletic and intelligent, but a bit on the shy side. I had learned to read and write at the age of two and was churning out my first poems before I hit kindergarten.
Because of this, I was treated differently from other children. “Teacher’s Pet” was a more gentle name than what most of the kids called me.
By the time I turned ten years old, I was already suicidal. I stopped caring about the way I looked, my hygiene suffered, and I just wanted to die.
I had all the classic symptoms of a severely depressed child and my mother missed all of them. She had no idea of my horrible plans. I used to cry myself to sleep, begging that God would take pity on me so I wouldn’t wake up. Up until the age of 23, I had made three attempts to take my life. To this day, she only knows of one.
To her credit, she did get me help. But not once did she understand why I wanted my life to end. We never talked about what having a positive body image of oneself really meant. She basically informed me that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thought of you and left it at that.
Teaching a child to love themselves is not an easy feat, especially when you, as the parent, may struggle with your own self esteem issues.
You have to see the self worth in yourself before you can teach it to your children. You can try to fake it but children have a keen intuition and will pick up on your cues.
Standing in front of the mirror calling yourself fat or continually pointing out your flaws is not the way to go. Your children will pick up on this and begin that behavior themselves.
I never thought my dark skin was a problem until my father, that I loved dearly, began to scrub my kneecaps with household products trying to make me, “lighter”. I hated my skin for years and it took me twenty years to figure out that my dark skin color was not a flaw and that I was beautiful.
I had my first child at eighteen and we are like peas and carrots. As a single mom, I provide everything that she needs and a few things off of her want list.
She is also bright, intelligent, and a delightful child. But the most important thing to me was not her clothes, her hair, or even her grades.
It was her self-esteem.
I had to learn to love myself before I could teach her. I had to learn to love my dark cocoa skin, my full lips, and my very wide nose. It was a hard process and I went through many counseling sessions before I could get to that point.
I had to teach myself in order to teach her before she went out into this cruel world to let others dictate if she was worthy of it.
We spend many hours of the day talking about positive body image. We comb pages of magazines of young women on the covers and I let her know that she doesn’t have to look like a model to be beautiful. We make lists of the things that she doesn’t like about herself. We simply take the piece of paper, put it on the stove, and watch it go up in flames.
I tell her that I love her a million times a day and that she is beautiful the way she is. We all have flaws, and while I don’t ignore them, I point out her best features.
She told me once that because she doesn’t look like the singer Beyonce, it must make her ugly.
“Well I don’t look like Beyonce so does that make me ugly? I asked. “What you’re saying is everyone that doesn’t look like Beyonce is ugly.” Suddenly, something inside her clicked. She understood that everyone in their own way is beautiful and that the people who only subject themselves to one “type” of beauty are very limited in thinking and she would do best to steer clear of them.
Of course she still has her bad days. She picks at her acne, she wants bigger breasts, and she thinks her nose is too narrow and long. But that’s okay. Teaching self esteem is a work in progress that must be continued through adulthood.
Children with healthy self esteem are more likely to make good choices about their mind and body. They are less likely to use drugs, drop out of school, become teenage parents, and participate in other dangerous behavior.
Raising the quarterback of the football team, captain of the cheerleading team, or class president would be nice, but to have a confident child that has learned to love herself would be the best gift of all. Teaching a child to love themselves takes baby steps that one day could lead to a happy, fulfilling, and productive life.