Our #BRIKAmonthlymantra for February is Oscar Wilde’s “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,” and we asked our resident parenting and family expert Liz Berholz to give her two cents on the subject.
Founder of Liz B. Parenting, a parenting consulting practice, Liz Berholz is an educator, speaker and Adler Institute-trained Life and Professional Coach. Liz works with parents of toddlers, tweens and teens by giving families the tools they need to create homes and lives filled with mutual respect, cooperation, connection, responsibility and fun.
We all want our kids to have high self-esteem. It’s the foundation for self-respect, respect for others, confidence – and the ability to love oneself (and, in turn, to love others) more fully. But not every child feels lovable. There are many, many factors that contribute to this, but how can we, as parents, help foster that self-love and high self-esteem?
1. Don’t treat your kids fairly (cue the gasps!). Treat them uniquely.
Treating all our children “fairly” (if we are defining “fair” as everyone always getting the same things or treatment) means we are not taking into account what each child really needs. We’re just comparing and evening out the score. Some kids find it a grave injustice when their sibling or friend has something they don’t have. But when kids grow up having their unique needs met, it shows them that you really know them and what they need. How familiar is the classic line, “That’s not fair! She’s got more than me”? Well, instead of spending 10 minutes evening out the serving of the peas or mashed potatoes, translate what they’ve said say into a unique want—not a comparison with what another has. “It sounds like you would like some more on your plate, is that what you are asking for?” Just re-frame the question from fairness to fulfilling a need just for them. It’s as if you are saying, “You are special and so I won’t compare you with others. What is it that YOU need?”
2. Let them feel capable.
Nothing says I can do it like having past evidence of success. Give them lots of opportunity to take on responsibilities and try new things. It’s the mini successes along the way that create the value in the journey. Celebrate the effort they have put in and don’t focus too much on the outcome or end result. The most effective way to do this is take time to show them how to do something step-by-step. If clearing the table in your house includes rinsing plates and putting them in the dishwasher, do it with them a few times so they learn the steps (and don’t use your great grandmother’s china!). Try it out with plastic plates initially, to minimize potential mistakes while they are building confidence in their new skill. Set them up for little successes so they experience the big impact of feeling that they are capable and contributing. Think about how you feel when you are contributing to the greater good. It’s not for a reward or remuneration but because you can—just because it feels good. It’s the same for your kids.
3. Fill their emotional bank account.
I love this concept that’s set out in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I think it works beautifully in parenting, too. Just as we set aside money to save for a rainy day, emotional deposits ensure that we have a strong bond with our child. There are those inevitable “rainy” days when there’s an emotional withdrawal (voices are raised, criticisms slip out), the rifts they create are much more easily mended when a child feels unconditionally loved and lovable. Particularly when, in their primary relationships, they have a context for self-love. On the flipside, if criticism and shaming are the norm, these will become the stronger negative neuropathways in the brain and will become the go-to internal coping mechanisms. You don’t always have to love your child’s behavior in order to always love your child, by the way. This is a fine, yet important, distinction. Never withhold love as a punishment. It doesn’t have the intended “learn your lesson” effect. Instead, separate your child from what she has done. She may have made a bad choice or lost her cool but that doesn’t mean she’s a “bad girl.” When a child feels loved unconditionally, they are much more likely to want to work with you in solving a problem, not against you. This is fertile ground for teaching life skills and improving behaviour.
So, see your kids for who they are. Take time to show them productive ways to contribute and feel capable. And fill up those emotional bank accounts (with interest!). You’ll be building lifelong skills while showing them just how easy they are to love.