Children aren't things; they are little people. They are sensitive, innocent, scared, elated, curious, and for them everything in life is brand new for a long time. When everything is new, fear can be high and self-esteem low. It is important to remember all this. They are not in your life to support your emotional needs and nor are they little robots you control and boss around into good behavior. They are people. They need certain essentials to learn resilience, to love themselves, to care for others, to value failure and to subsequently learn to turn failure into triumph. They need positive self-esteem. Their self-esteem, first and foremost, is directly under your care as their parent.
1. "I love you."
You can give a child too many things, but you can never give a child too much love. When you tell your children you love them and tell them often, it lets them know they are valuable. It gives them a fan in their audience. Loving them gives them courage, time to grow; it allows them to make mistakes; it provides healing, and produces feelings of joy. Love develops their ideas of their personal significance and it gives them hope. Saying "I love you" lets your children know they are valuable, likable and worthy. It takes away fear and provides them with the confidence and security they will need to sustain them throughout life.
Telling your children they are loved teaches them to love themselves and how to love others.
2. "I'm proud of you."
In order to develop a healthy sense of self, children need a surplus of affirmation and validation. Children crave having your support and blessings, and direct most of their behaviors towards the gaining of your approval, love and acceptance. Though you may not fully agree with the way they choose to do everything, you must commend them on working to complete the hardest task of all -- the journey into their independence. Be proud of them.
Although many parents tell their children they are proud, the difference is made in quantity, creativity, and sincerity.
3. "I'm wrong and I am sorry."
When you can admit wrong to your children, you show them you are human and that you have compassion for how they feel on the other side of you. When you're real with them, you show that perfection isn't possible -- not for them nor for yourself. Accepting your own imperfections requires honesty, and when you do this with your children, you help them to accept and have the courage to own their own imperfections, which increases their self-worth. They learn through you that it is OK not to be perfect.
Taking ownership of your mistakes creates an environment of tolerance and open-mindedness between you and your children, which later becomes the foundation upon which they will learn to build all of their future relationships.
4. "I forgive you."
It is easy to think, as the parent, that your time, needs, wants and desires hold more value than those of your children, so you treat them as "things" who are there to meet your demands and desires in your way and in your time frame. This is completely unfair. We are all imperfect. As parents we are guilty of saying things we don't mean, and we do things we should not do. All of us waste time, break promises, forget important things and mess up. None of us fully meets all the expectations placed upon us, including our own. Children are equally as human.
No one, no matter what age, appreciates being reminded of how they made a poor choice or mistake. Nor does anyone want to be punished endlessly for it, humiliated in front of others for it, or to have it rubbed in their face. As a parent you have to find the balance between having them face up to the consequences of their actions and remembering they have feelings. It is your task, as their parent, to teach them they are lovable despite their imperfections. Forgive them, don't condemn them.
5. "I am listening."
It is incredibly important to listen to your children so they know that you are interested in what they have to say. Through listening, you learn about who your children are on the inside. It connects you to their inner world and creates an interaction which is mutually satisfying where both parent and child feel a sense of value. To avoid needless misunderstandings, it is helpful to reflect back to them what they have communicated as confirmation of the fact that you have heard them correctly. Once understanding is established, you can encourage, guide and praise them.
Negative bonds are created when children feel unimportant. Being heard is a huge statement of their worth. How can you know your children and be close to them if you never listen to them objectively? If you argue, you are likely not listening. They are different from you, so instead of telling them what to do all the time, listen to them first, hear their thoughts and then provide direction (if it is wanted), asking for their opinions and input. This helps them to learn to problem solve, brainstorm and make their own good decisions.
6. "This is your responsibility."
Personal accountability is part of growing up. When your child makes a decision -- whether wise or not -- dealing with the fallout of the decision goes along with it. When parents make their children accountable for their decisions and actions, the result is effective lesson learning. Your children will quickly learn which actions are positive and which have a negative result. These experiences help teach responsible behavior and guide them long into the future. Making your children responsible communicates to them that you believe in their abilities to do what they need to do. Without responsibility, children never learn to lead their own lives effectively. Mistakes, even repetitive ones, are great life experience teachers for our children.
7. "You have what it takes to succeed."
The concept of success being a direct result of effort and persistence starts early. Healthy self-esteem is your child's protective armor against the challenges of the world. Parent your children to know their strengths and weaknesses and to feel good about themselves. In parenting this way, your children will have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They will smile more readily and show a more natural joy for life. Your kids will be realistic and generally optimistic when they deeply believe they have what it takes to succeed.
Encourage your children through your belief in them. Celebrate their efforts, their achievements and support them when they fail. Teach them that failure is a form of success, as it will be through their failures that they will pave their path to living a happy and fulfilling life.
Let love and discipline be the guiding forces of your parenting. Discipline and punishment/humiliation are different. If you crush the self-esteem of your children at any age, the effects are often lifelong. Be mindful, because once your children reach adulthood, it's harder to make changes in how they see and define themselves. For this reason it is wise to think about developing and promoting self-esteem as early as possible, with consistency and authenticity. As your children try, fail, try again, fail again, and finally succeed, they develop ideas about what their capabilities are. At the same time, they are also building ideas about themselves based upon the interactions they are having with others. It is your love and discipline which guide your children into forming accurate and healthy ideas of who they are. Love them well.