So, how’s your self-esteem? It’s not a question we’re often asked, nor do we tend to ask it of others, but it’s such a vital element of our lives that it’s really worth paying it some attention!
Self-esteem is about liking yourself and who you are. It comes from having a sense of belonging, believing that you’re capable and knowing that your contributions are valued and worthwhile.
Self-esteem is critical to our well-being and this is especially true of women. We may be 20 years older than the insecure teen we once were, but, as grown women many of us still struggle with low self-esteem – occasionally or often.
How many of us can truly say we love ourselves, our bodies, our personality quirks? We all have things we wish were different about ourselves – it’s just that some of us have a longer list than others! None of us is 100% accepting of who we are, but we all want our kids to love and accept themselves as we do. We want them to see their unique value, but we have trouble seeing it in ourselves!
So, how can we as parents ensure that we don’t pass on our own insecurities and self-esteem issues to the next generation? One of the first things we can do is to change the way we think about ourselves. To work on our own self-esteem and get to a place where we like ourselves, accept our quirks and make peace with our body issues.
Only from a place of healing can we start to impart our positive body image and strengthened self-esteem to our children!
Today’s kids are bombarded with so many outside influencers from the music, movie and media industries that it’s important we as parents start laying down the groundwork for great self-esteem as young as possible – and that we don’t stop there – we need to keep reinforcing the right messages to our kids at every stage of their childhood!
As moms we are the first influencers on our children’s lives. How we respond to self-esteem issues directly affects them. Think back to your own experience growing up as a kid – if your mom was constantly on a diet, it’s quite likely that you have a few food issues of your own! We need to realise that fleeting negative comments about our own weight or casually mentioning that we feel insecure about a particular body part are bound to affect our kids and how they feel about their own bodies!
As parents we need to be modelling healthy habits to our kids – the three Essential E’s: eating, exercising, esteem!
o Eating a balanced diet (& enjoying treats in moderation)
o Exercising (without complaining)
o Exhibiting good self-Esteem (by embracing your body the way it is)
These are all vitally important in creating good self-esteem and healthy habits in our kids lives!
Obviously teenage girls are particularly susceptible to low self-esteem issues as they go through an array of confusing changes in their bodies at this time. Therefore it’s vital to be having conversations with your daughter about body issues at this stage, but we also need to realize that the groundwork for these conversations starts years before…
I’m currently parenting a 4 year old who doesn’t appear to have low self-esteem issues at all – quite the opposite – her entire being is all about wanting people to look at her! As a girl of 4 she has already realised that her appearance matters. She chooses her outfits based on how pretty they make her look and adores makeup and nail polish even more than me! And there is nothing inherently wrong with this – she is a little girl and ALL little (& big) girls love pretty things and want to know that they are admired and adored. The issue comes in when she thinks that being attractive is ALL that is important – self-esteem needs to be based on more than good looks which will fade eventually! As her parents we try to reinforce the messages that ARE important – her kind nature, humour, natural talents etc – but unfortunately society makes this hard for us. You see she is pretty, and everyone notices it, and comments on it. Initially as her mom I felt a quiet pleasure for her, but as time has gone on I’ve realised that in fact this is damaging. She has got beautiful blonde hair, but if that is the only thing that people notice, and comment about, then she is going to grow up with a completely warped sense of self. Her self-esteem is going to be based on the wrong thing and that will only lead to trouble down the line…
As a society we need to shift our focus off appearance. How can we do this when every message we see relates back to it? Well, I think we can make a good start by thinking twice about commenting on someone’s appearance. Think twice about commenting on somebody’s appearance, whether in a positive or negative way, as all comments related to appearance create an unhealthy sense of beauty. For example, commenting on a woman’s curly hair sends the message that her features are not as desirable when compared to straight hair or making mention of someone’s lovely legs causes others in earshot to question whether their own are good enough!
I’m by no means saying we can never compliment another woman on her appearance or appreciate their beauty, but let’s pay attention to HOW and WHERE we share these words. Words are powerful and we need to ensure that we are lifting up not only the person we are complimenting, but also those that may be hearing our exchange – especially young girls and teens!
We need to remember that children’s self-esteem is determined by success and progress in four areas and as parents we need to emphasize, recognize and reinforce ALL four areas!
o Social (acceptance, friendships)
o Competence (in a skill area)
o Character (effort, generosity, etc.)
o Physical (clothing, attractiveness)
During my research for this post I came across a very interesting piece of information – your child’s self-esteem will be determined by the conditional acceptance that she receives from others – and the unconditional acceptance that she receives from you, the parent! What this means is that whether you’re a parent or not you you have an opportunity to influence the self-esteem of the kids you come into contact with. You have an opportunity to be a young girl’s biggest fan!
Here are 10 tips for building good self-esteem in your daughter’s life:
1. Encourage her individual interests, such as a sport, hobby or creative outlet
2. Build her confidence so she is willing to try new things and meet new people
3. Recognize her achievements especially when she excels
4. Accept her 100% and don’t try to change her, look at her with loving, not critical, eyes.
5. Appreciate her unique beauty and teach her to embrace her body
6. Help her to discover her gifts and talents and give her space to explore them
7. Communicate that “fitting in” isn’t as important as creating and pursuing her own definition of happiness.
8. Be honest about your childhood and teen years so that she doesn’t feel alienated by the pressure to conform
9. Educate her on the facts about the media (esp the modelling, movie & music industries) and uncover the truth together
10. Guide her to create a relationship with a trusted adult ally or mentor that you approve of – ideally an older sister, aunt, family friend, teacher etc – that will be a safe space for her to turn to when the world (or her friends) turns on her and tells her she is inadequate. There is immense value in having a reliable and genuinely devoted woman (besides mom!) to show her she is perfect, just the way she is!
To assist girls with the pressures of being a girl, Unilever South Africa has recently launched the Dove Self Esteem Project locally to help build self-esteem. Globally, the project aims to reach 15 million young people with self-esteem building programmes by the end of 2015 through hour-long self-esteem workshops aimed at building body confidence.
The project is also supported by an excellent website selfesteem.dove.co.za that provides helpful tools and resources for parents, mentors and teachers on how they can build children’s self-esteem. The website hosts a number of informative articles, videos and advice on how you can get involved in your own community by creating your own self-esteem workshops plus games and activities that you can play with your daughter. It’s a great resource and well worth a visit!