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Building your child’s self-worth is a daily practice



Parenting mountain strong children Mountain Strong Families intentionally work to ensure their children’s selfworth. PHOTO BY ANN SHERMAN

Parenting mountain strong children Mountain Strong Families intentionally work to ensure their children’s selfworth. PHOTO BY ANN SHERMAN

Does your child have a healthy dose of self-worth? Because when we are confident in our own value, we feel good about ourselves and our capabilities, we take good care of ourselves and others, and we expect to be treated with respect. When we see ourselves as people of value, we behave more positively. And the people we choose to surround ourselves with will be determined by the value we place on ourselves.

A person’s self-worth is primarily developed by the way they are treated by others during childhood. The positive or negative experiences we have with our family are the most important influences on whether we value ourselves or feel insecurity and shame about who we are.

What can we do to ensure high self-worth in our children? First, we can be aware of our own level of self-worth. Do we believe we are valuable people who are capable of reaching our goals? Despite any imperfections, do we believe we are more than enough just as we are? Do we feel secure about who we are? If not, intentionally interrupt those old negative messages dancing around in your head by telling yourself positive things about yourself each day. Practice giving yourself daily affirmations: “I am enough. I am beautiful inside and out. I am loveable. I am strong and capable.”

Say these things out loud in front of your children from time to time. Let them know that you think well of yourself. And model how to graciously accept praise from others instead of minimizing any affirmations you receive. A parent’s level of self-worth, or the value they place on themselves, affects their ability to support their child’s developing self-worth.

Praise is the most powerful tool we can use in developing a child’s self-worth. Children need adults to notice their value. They need to hear that what they accomplish, how much effort they put into something, and who they are is amazing. Set an intention to praise and encourage your child daily. Tell your child power stories at bedtime about their day: “You were kind today when you…. You were brave today when you…. You persevered today when you…..”

However, adults often give “praise for doing” in an ineffective manner. We praise the winning score, get all excited about the starring role in a performance, or a high grade. When we only acknowledge the final product, we inadvertently teach children to be anxious perfectionists. Many children quickly give up if they can’t excel immediately or be the star of the show. Instead, praise the process and the effort of your child. Instead of saying, “What an incredible painting!” say “I saw you working hard on that painting. Can you tell me about it?” When you watch them performing, praise them by saying “I love watching you play” to emphasize the shared experience instead of the score. Instead of saying “You’re so smart!” say “Wow! You kept trying and figured that out!”

Other effective praise statements include giving specific praise. Instead of saying “Good Job!” tell your child exactly what you appreciated, and you will see more of that. Praise your child’s positive impact on others. Instead of saying “Good job sharing” say “Look how happy your brother is to have a turn with your toy.” This helps a child see that their actions have power, their choices impact others. Remember to encourage the child’s pride in themselves. Instead of saying “I’m so proud of you!” say “I bet you feel really proud of yourself for…” This helps your child develop the ability to give themselves self-affirmations rather than always waiting for external recognition.

There is another, very different type of praise to give daily. It is praise that honors our child just for being rather than for what they have done, i.e. “I really enjoy you. I’m so happy you are in the world. You are one of my favorite people. I just love your energy.” This is the highest form of praise. We all need to hear it on a regular basis to feel good about ourselves.

Some parents may think that praising children makes them conceited. But people who appear conceited actually have a low self-image and attempt to elevate their self-worth at the expense of others. Research indicates that praise doesn’t make children cocky, conceited, or spoiled. Genuine praise actually helps children celebrate others.

Another important way to develop your child’s positive self-worth is to avoid giving them labels. The image that children develop of themselves is in large part the result of parental perceptions expressed in labels. Labels become a person’s identity. Consider whether you were called thoughtful, athletic, smart, or a helper as a child? Were you called bossy, lazy, hyperactive, stupid, stubborn, picky, or a butterball? Think about how labels shaped your image of yourself now and then. It is more helpful to reframe a negative trait or label into a hidden strength. If your daughter has trouble controlling her anger when her brother disrespects her, will she be a passionate fighter against injustice? Is your son’s dawdling a sign of his imagination that will someday make him a great novelist? Where we put our focus changes how we feel about our children.

Let’s be mindful of the way we think about and talk about our children. How they hear us talk about them may be their inner voice for the rest of their lives. When they hear: “That was a dumb thing to do. He never sits still. You’re so irresponsible,” they believe it. We want our children to know their value and their strengths. We want them to know how to regulate their thoughts about being unworthy. And we want our children to be critical thinkers about how society attempts to shape their self-worth. If our children are receiving positive messages from us at home, it will be easier for them to counter any negative messages coming from elsewhere.

The next Mountain Strong Families session will cover parenting practices that help children feel safe and empowered in this ever-changing world. Join us on Tuesday, April 5, from 6 – 7:30 p.m. Contact ann@teensinc.org for more info.

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