the regard for one’s own well-being and happiness
As parents we spend a large amount of time teaching our children the fundamental building blocks of healthy relationships. From kindness and compassion, to forgiveness and resilience. I’ve joked before that the ultimate aim of parenting is “a happy, balanced, confident child who knows their arse from their elbow and won’t grow up to cause world war three”. Jokes aside, a happy, balanced, confident child is the main aim of the game here. But even with all our blessings in life – our education, inherent privilege and good fortune – our children aren’t born with happiness. They aren’t born instinctively confident, emotionally well balanced and ready to tackle the world. They spend their childhoods acquiring knowledge and skills that equip them for adulthood. And the most important lesson of all? Self love.
Self love, or self esteem, is a measure of their own self worth effectively. And it’s a really interesting topic because it plays into every aspect of their lives.
I have two very, very different children. One is a naturally quite gregarious character, very affable and non-confrontational. The other takes everything very personally, whereby even a side eye glance from a stranger can cause tears. One child is capable of shrugging off criticism whereas the other, to be blunt, is not. I have one child who forms friendships easily, and one who struggles slightly more. I have one child who is so self-conscious, and at times so desperately lacking in self esteem, that he is always on the verge of a meltdown. And I don’t really know why they are so wildly different. They’re siblings. They’ve had broadly identical upbringings. One was bottle fed and one was breastfed, but I don’t see that as being the determining factor here. Neither were left to cry it out as babies, and both went to childcare from the age of six months.
And so although self love is a skill that must be taught, it is clear that some children need it instilling in them more than others. What is perhaps most interesting though, or at least it is to me, is that the confident self-assured child is my daughter. The child who struggles and is much more sensitive to the world around them is my son. Now, is this me assuming that because he’s male he’s instinctively more robust than my daughter? Yes, perhaps. Is my daughters resilience because I’ve spent the duration of her life telling her ten million times a day how she’s capable of anything, because she’s female and I feel the struggles she will face later in life? Maybe.
But the fact remains, one of my children needs to have their self worth instilled in them immediately. And just like so many other life skills we want our children to learn, this is one they need for their future. It’s widely accepted that the ability to self love is also associated with less risk of anxiety and depression, and a better ability to deal with stress. All things we want for our kids, not just as adults, but skills they’ll need to get through school unscathed.
For five and a half years I’ve been telling my son how great he is. I laughed at every joke, delighted in every story, cheered on every minor triumph. But to absolutely no gain. And then I read this article on Hey Sigmund, and suddenly it was obvious. Finn needs to learn through example. He doesn’t just need to hear his Dad and I voicing our self worth though, he needs to believe in what we’re saying to him, about him.
Teaching children to self love is about instilling a resilience to criticism, either from others or from themselves. Feigning success to a young child, letting them always win, doesn’t build resilience. I’m not saying that from this point onwards Finn and Clara don’t have a hope in hell of ever beating me at anything ever again. But I will let them lose once in a while. And I’ll teach them to be happy for others when they succeed rather than dwell on their own loss. This is all super obvious parenting, no doubt. But it’s the grey area of knowing when to start bursting their little bubble of the world revolving around them. For most kids I guess this happens around age four or five. Right when they go to school. But we’re home schoolers, so this is something else I need to teach the kids.
I actually need to actively teach the children self love. I need to tell them all the things they need to hear. And I need to pick them up from every hit to their confidence, which I also need to sit back and allow to happen which goes against every protective parent instinct I have. This is one set of lessons that will continue throughout their lives, and will continue to mess with my head. When do I step in and protect them? When do I hold back and let them realise that all those times I told them they CAN do anything they want in life, they can, but perhaps not right now. Clara has that down. Her response to the question “what do you want to be when you’re older?” says it all…
“ME. I’m going to be me, because I can be anything I want to be, can’t I?”