Welcome to the October 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Instilling a Healthy Self-Image
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared confessions, wisdom, and goals for helping children love who they are. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
This is my experience of wanting to and trying to instill a healthy self-image in my daughter. And I do hope it’s worked because we just started kindergarten this year and whatever we gave her so far is going to be critical in her being able to bounce back from this initial wave of “socialization.” I’ve already heard her say that she wants to “look pretty” so that she’ll be able to play some particular game. Sigh. (I was tempted to overreact, but fortunately she has such good teachers that they were already on it, helping to gently guide.) So, back to the beginning and the foundation we tried to give her…
I’ll define healthy self-esteem as being able to see yourself as you truly are and to love that true self; to know that the original self, the core of yourself, is perfect and beautiful and brilliant. (If later in life there are layers of crap on that original perfection that you want or need to change, then you work on those. But mistakes, wrong turns and other things you may not like about yourself do not touch that Original Truth that you are perfect, you are love and you are loved.)
As a parent, these are the things I feel are important to build the blueprint for my daughter’s healthy self-esteem:
1. The first thing is to be aware of the thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves, and to clear any issues we may have that impede our own healthy self-image (as well as we can). I do believe that being in the process of working on our own stuff is significant and that becomes the good example we set.
I spent my life waiting until I was thin enough to be beautiful (read also: acceptable, lovable, viable…) And then I got pregnant at over 200 pounds and I knew that I had to do something about how I saw myself, or rather about the fact that I basically denied my own existence.
Once my daughter was inside of me, I was determined to give her the best of everything and that meant learning to love myself in the moment, to be in the moment with her. How could I have anything but love and appreciation for a body that was housing, protecting and nourishing her?
So I stood naked in front of the big mirror and didn’t look away. Then I looked and redefined beauty for myself. I looked until I saw beauty in myself. And I honestly felt different, better, in every way. This is the first gift of healing she brought me.
It’s so easy in those early years because to these brand new beings, life is beauty. To Em, we were the definition of love and of beauty. When we opened ourselves to seeing the world through her eyes, it changed us, rejuvenated us. I believe that children come in to this life knowing, and if we can mostly just not ruin that, they’ll be great.
2. The second thing is to make choices about the language we use, not just around our children, but all the time. I believe strongly that words have power and they change us energetically. If we use negative language it creates a vibration around us, and if we use it for a long time it starts to solidify and soak into us becoming more a part of who we are.
How we speak and the words we choose to describe our world and each moment help to create the world we experience.
That describes a life philosophy for me and an attitude of positivity, but it gets more detailed when we bring a new person into our environment.
We decided not to even say “no” around Em when she was first born. Stephen was so much better at it than I was. He kept it up a lot longer. I tried very hard to only use it sparingly. That was helpful because otherwise it can be an endless “no, no, no, no, no” when dealing with a little one, especially once they start moving around and getting into things.
We also never used the word “hate.” It really surprised us how often it appeared in books, even for very little ones. We’d change it or skip it. Those early books even start to describe things as “ugly” or “beautiful.” Well, who’s to say, right? We didn’t want her to be told what to find beautiful or not. We wanted her to decide for herself and it was lovely to see that oftentimes she found beauty in places that maybe most people wouldn’t have.
It applies to the words we use to talk about ourselves too, of course. Many of us don’t even realize we do some of these things. When you make a mistake, even something tiny, do you say, “What an idiot” about yourself? Do you absentmindedly look in the mirror and say critical things about yourself, or even just grimace? Those things are huge. HUGE.
It’s optimal to actually feel good about ourselves and to speak lovingly toward ourselves, but if you can’t feel it yet, it’s still better to fake it ’til you make it in this case. Or if you can’t say something nice about yourself, don’t say anything at all.
We need to have self-respect if we want to teach our children to respect us, themselves and others.
3. The way we frame the world for her and what we expose her to is the next way she begins to define herself and her place.
We can choose what parts of the world we show our children and that will make all the difference when they are exposed to things we couldn’t control, especially as they grow.
So let’s show them beauty in all its forms. Show them diverse images of beauty; images of nature; actual nature. Expose them to sound and music and let them feel textures and temperatures.
The longer we can keep from defining beauty in any kind of narrow terms, the better chance our children will have for finding it everywhere in their world as well as in themselves and others.
4. The way we handle the critical, judgmental nature of society and how we teach her to process it. How we handle our own mistakes and failings…
As far as the negative elements of society…we talk to our children and we continue to model positive, loving behavior. I believe in teaching my daughter that kindness (to ourselves and others) is the most important thing and that really covers most everything. That way, if she experiences something other than that from someone else, she can (hopefully) understand that it’s not okay and it doesn’t define her in any way. This is a really tough one and one I’ll probably learn lots more about in the coming years. For now we continue to reinforce the positive and keep reminding her that she is love, that she is loved.
If we ourselves live by the Chinese Proverb, “Failure is not in falling down but in refusing to get up,” then we teach our children that there is no mistake they make that must define them if they keep trying.
We must allow ourselves to be fallible and human and humble. When we make mistakes and our children see that we can admit them, apologize for them and attempt to set things right or make things better, then we’ve taught them how to do the same.
Finally, here is the little thing that ran through my mind as I wrote this.(I really like it even though I suspect it’s lame and doesn’t make sense… (so that’s how far I’ve gotten in my own quest for self-esteem; basically I like myself but don’t really expect anyone else to. Shhhh… don’t tell my kid!)
FIRST BE A MIRROR FILLED WITH LIGHT AND LOVE AND JOY AND POSITIVITY
THEN BE A WINDOW THROUGH WHICH THE WORLD OUTSIDE CAN BE SEEN AND START TO BE UNDERSTOOD
THEN BE A DOOR THAT OPENS OUT ONTO SAFE AND WONDERFUL ADVENTURES
THEN BE THE WARM AND LOVING HOME THAT YOUR CHILD CAN ALWAYS RETURN TO
THEN BE THE MEMORY THAT YOUR CHILD WILL BUILD THEIR OWN SAFE HOME UPON
AND BE A MIRROR FOR THEIR OWN CHILDREN
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon October 9 with all the carnival links.)