Norton: Developing a healthy self-image in our family
As parents, one of our most important jobs is to help our children develop a strong sense of self-worth and a healthy self-image. This lays the foundation for them to grow into confident, capable adults who feel good about themselves and can build fulfilling relationships at home, at work, and within their social circles. Living in an uncertain world is a breeding ground for a lack of confidence. It’s our job as parents, relatives and friends of the family to do what we can to help instill that confidence in those who will one day be responsible for their own success and the success of their families.
Being a parent, grandparent and uncle both by blood and by friendship, and through the wise counsel of many mentors and subject matter experts, here are some tips for nurturing healthy self-esteem within your family:
Model self-acceptance. Children pick up on our attitudes and the way we talk about ourselves. This is important because when, not if, we face adversity and challenges that try our resolve, how we respond will be on display for those watching.
Avoid putting yourself down or fixating on imperfections. Instead, model self-compassion and point out your own positive qualities. This shows kids it’s OK to be excellent and not perfect. None of us are perfect, and neither will our children be, so when we hit a speed bump or obstacle, show how we take it in stride.
Praise effort over outcomes. Rather than just praising talents or achievements, recognize when they put forth effort. This teaches them their value doesn’t come from external validation but from working hard.
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Encourage them to pursue interests. Supporting their unique passions, rather than pushing your own, makes them feel known and accepted for who they are. It also builds confidence as they gain competence in activities they care about. This was a hard one for me, and maybe you, too. Because I loved football, baseball, golf and skiing, I thought my kids should, too. It is typically not the case, and when we give them the space to find their own passions, who knows what they can teach us.
Let them solve some problems independently. Resist the urge to rush in and put away the cape. Allowing appropriate freedom helps them trust in their own abilities. Offer guidance but let them take the lead in formulating solutions.
Don’t compare or criticize. Comparing siblings or criticizing based on arbitrary standards erodes self-worth. Instead, offer feedback that is kind, specific and focuses on behavior rather than character.
Celebrate diversity. Expose them to people from different walks of life. Teach them that differences make the world beautiful. Make sure they know you value who they are, inside and out. The challenge here is staying true to our own convictions and belief systems without forcing it upon them. If we live our values consistently, they may be more apt to follow.
Practice empathy. When they struggle, don’t minimize their feelings. Listen with compassion. Helping them feel heard and cared for, even in hard times; this is so important.
Be patient with mistakes. When they mess up, use it as a teaching opportunity, not a time for shame or harsh discipline. Remind them everybody makes mistakes — what matters most is learning from them. Learning to fail is critical to success at every stage of life.
Focus on strengths. We all have weaknesses but dwelling on deficits damages self-esteem. Make a practice of identifying each child’s strengths and abilities. Reinforce these regularly.
Express love unconditionally. Let your kids know they are loved not for what they achieve but simply because of who they are. Make sure they feel secure in your affection.
By taking these steps, you can foster an environment where your kids feel safe being themselves. Nothing is more powerful than giving them the gift of true self-acceptance. When children believe in their inherent worth, they gain resilience to face life’s challenges and embrace their boundless potential. I would love to hear your story about your own experiences at email@example.com and when we can all contribute to those who will one day lead us and care for us and this world, it really will be a better than good life.
Michael Norton is an author, a personal and professional coach, consultant, trainer, encourager, and motivator of individuals and businesses, working with organizations and associations across multiple industries.