I am a huge advocate on leading by example, so I am going to approach the topic of teaching your children to love themselves by starting with you for a moment. Then I will give you some important food for thought about what you can do for your child.
If you don’t love yourself, your child will also struggle to love him or herself, despite your own best intentions. Children do what they see, not what you tell them. Plus, they are geniuses at seeing through the façade, so “acting as if” isn’t effective if you are serious about raising your child to have authentic and healthy self-esteem.
This brings up two questions to ponder:
→ How can I begin to love myself in a way that is authentic and lasting, so I can lead by example?
→ What do I need to do to teach my children to love and trust him or herself?
To answer the first question, I am going to ask you to step outside of your head for a minute. Love is never what you think, it isn’t an emotion either. Emotions come and go, sometimes faster than the speed of light. Instead, get down deep in your heart and begin to connect to your higher self. Meditation, prayer, connecting with nature, or just sitting quietly with your hand a little below your heart will help you do this.
Next, begin to apply Love as a verb, instead of something you keep trying to figure out if you feel or not. Acting in a loving way toward you means to talk positively about yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and say “I love you” – say it from your soul. Create lists of what make you lovable and remind yourself consistently that you are a decent person who makes mistakes just like everyone else does.
Speaking of lists, create lists of what is not so lovable and begin the important work of forgiveness. Self-forgiveness may be something you need to slowly chip away at on a daily basis depending on what level of difficulty you find in truly letting go of your self-resentments. So, forgive yourself as you also start to work on overcoming those less than lovable character defects.
Be firm with yourself about self-improvement and remain focused on doing what is right. Self-love is not about indulgence or making excuses for having low standards. In fact, sometimes, it means being firm and holding yourself accountable. Developing discipline, self-regulation and stability will help your feelings of self-worth raise much higher than you might realize, so really push yourself with that.
For the next question, What do I need to do to teach my children to love and trust him or herself?
This starts with leading by example. You must work to become the person you want your child to be and hopefully your child will emulate and even do better than you.
The next thing is to stop worrying so much if your child likes you or not. When you are more of a buddy than a parent, it hurts instead of helps. Your child will view you as a pushover, not as a respected authority figure. They will doubt themselves because if you have to work so hard to be liked, what does that say about what he/she has to do to also be liked?
Relax. You can be kind, loving and expect your child probably won’t like you as well as you might be comfortable with until they start to raise their own children. Then you will have years to enjoy being liked and respected doubly.
Finally, step back and allow your child to have enough space to grow and fail. Consider your child’s age for this, for example, babies need you to hover over them, older children need to be nudged out of the nest in consistent increments. As much as you may love parenting, you are harming your child if you aren’t working with them to be fully independent without your assistance. Sometimes that means letting them fail and recover on their own. That doesn’t mean to cut off all support, it just means to refuse to give too much of it because your child needs to build his or her own muscles to navigate through this world. The more muscle he or she builds, the more they will feel capable and that is a core value for feeling self-love.
To sum it up:
→ Lead by example by becoming the person you want your child to be. If you want them to love themselves, love yourself, if you want them to love their spouse, love your spouse. If you want them to work hard, be honest, be happy, etc…, do all those things without excuses.
→ Be a parent first and always. You will be able to work on being a friend after your child is established as a productive adult in his or her own rights.
→ Expect your child to fall while they are learning to fly and give them the space he or she needs to develop wings of his/her own.
Here is an excellent book I recommend for additional ways to raise emotionally healthy and happy children: