As a single mom to three girls, I've come up with some ways to help my girls love themselves even when others act like they don't.
When my oldest was at the pool and swam up to her friend that she has had forever and asked her to swim, only to be turned down despite being the only kids in the pool, I was devastated. Having gone to college with the mother, who was chatting on her phone on the deck not paying any attention, I was a little more than angry as well. When my daughter, feelings clearly hurt, got out of the pool to cry on the bench, I had to hold back my instinct to cause a scene. Instead, I got out of the pool myself and went and sat by my daughter. Instead of telling her that it is OK and she will make other friends, I told her to think about it from the girl's perspective. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she was feeling sad and didn't feel like playing. Or maybe she was not the kind of friend my daughter wanted because she couldn't play nice. When my daughter chimed in that, "Yeah, maybe she lost a favorite toy today!" and visibly seemed to regain her pep, I was happy. She bounded back into the pool to play with her sisters and me and was all smiles. Taking the issue away from them and giving it a new face can often help them to not take it personally.
It's hard enough for grown women to feel beautiful and worthy in the world of Photoshop and auto-tune, so watching little girls soak up the "perfect" image is hard, too. The only way I know how to destroy that image and show that everyone deserves love no matter what, is to use myself as an example. Despite the fact that I have graying hair, dry splotchy skin, a belly that makes people ask if I am pregnant (I so am not) and a little too much weight for my short frame, I am beautiful. I have amazing eyes, a smile that shines brightly and the confidence to walk with my head up. We always talk about the awesome things about ourselves as opposed to what's wrong. Real life will trump plastic life any day.
I think that it is OK for kids not to be the best at everything. I, personally, don't think a kid needs a ribbon just for showing up. However, I see the smiles on their faces when they win something for giving it their best shot. I think that sometimes we parents want our kids to be the best or at least feel like they are the best at anything they do. The truth is, my kids have things they just will never do well, and that is totally OK. But if they need improvement in an area, it's also OK to constructively tell them so. There is no shame in hiring a tutor, having extra practices for a skill or going back to the basics to improve their reading. Insulting them is bad. But guiding them to learn to improve is a great thing!
As I mentioned in my self-esteem article, leading by example is so important when teaching kids. You simply can't teach a kid to love his or her self when you constantly tear yourself down. It's contradictory, and it doesn't work. Even if you have to fake it, love yourself in front of your kids. When your friends are around and the kids are in sight, refrain from talking about your flaws. I am amazed at what my girls have overheard that I thought they didn't. Love yourself and allow yourself to thrive as you are and they can't help but to want to do the same!
Little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice. But they are also the women of tomorrow. Those lessons that teach them to count on themselves, to love themselves and to rely on their inner voice will stick with them forever.
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