If there is one thing that every single parent wants for their child- It is a healthy self esteem! When we ask parents in our workshops what self esteem means to them, these are some common responses we get to hear.
Believing in themselves
Not getting easily affected by what others say
Believing “I can do it”
Parents are keen to know what they can do to build these qualities in their children. Yet, it may not always occur to us, what our children are learning and picking up from just watching us. When I talk about self esteem, what am I role modeling for my children? Do I believe in myself? Do I accept myself for who I am or do I often criticize myself?
Does that mean our child’s self esteem is deeply linked to our own self esteem? Yes, and in many ways.
These are some points to ponder over:
We may be over ambitious because of our own low self esteem-- I may push, nag and scold my child to be a high achiever in order to fulfill my own dreams or because it makes me feel successful. How do these actions affect my child?
We may cling to our children to meet our own emotional needs - I may expect my children to give me the love I have not received as a child or not receiving even today in my adult relationships. This creates an unhealthy attachment. .
We may put ourselves down and our children may watch us and learn to do the same. - “I am so fat” , “I never do anything right” .
We may harm our daughters’ self esteem because of our social conditioning- As a girl I may have been told that I have to eat last or always give priority to the boys. Or I may have been given less freedom or respect. As a parent, I may be continuing the do the same and teaching my daughter she is not worthy of being treated as an equal.
We may put undue pressure on boys which leaves them feeling inadequate- As a growing boy I may have been forced to fit into all the stereotypical roles which boys are expected to play. “Be tough. Boys don't cry”. “You are a boy and you have to get good marks and earn well and support a family.” If I was not able to live up to these expectations I may have been shamed. Am I unknowingly doing the same to my son?
We may transfer our fears to our children- I may be carrying many fears - for example fear of animals, fear of water, fearful about safety. I may not realize that my child is picking up the same anxieties.
We may role model low self esteem by being submissive- I may allow people to walk over me. I may be scared to say “no” or set limits .Am I giving my child the message that it is OK to be treated disrespectfully?
Understanding the deep impact our own life experiences and our behavior today on our children can be overwhelming. Each of us have this vision of raising a child who is a strong, confident person- whether boy or girl. And we would want to do everything in our power to nurture that. Therefore we need to be conscious that the work of building their self esteem begins with us.
So what happens if I don’t have healthy self esteem? What if my life experiences have made it hard for me to feel sure of myself? What if I grew up with constant criticism and was always told I was lazy, incompetent or that I need to do better. This is a hard place to be in and not uncommon. The prevalent view of parenting at an earlier time was that parents need to keep telling children what is wrong with them in order to make them improve. Thus, with the best of intentions many of us were raised to believe we were not good enough.
Whatever our life experiences, we have amazing discoveries in science about the concept of neuroplasticity. At any stage in our lives, we can rewire our brains. With a simple awareness of the points discussed above we can avoid repeating these patterns. We can be conscious of what we are role modeling for our children. When our children resist what we want them to do we can ask ourselves if we are pushing them to satisfy our own egos? We could be more aware about not being self critical or allowing ourselves to be bullied.
It may be hard but we can start the journey to overcome our fears and insecurities and begin to feel confident and good about ourselves. Once we have the intention and determination to change our thought patterns and works on ourselves there are many resources out there for us - books, workshops, counselors, spiritual guides. The journey to helping our children begins with helping ourselves!
Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified Parent Educator with Parenting Matters, an organization that promotes parents to build deeper connection within families.