Believe it or not, a lot of the parents that I work with are surprised when I tell them just how much their actions will wind up affecting their children’s self-esteem. So much so that I feel as though I may at times be understating this. With that said, I thought I’d take this opportunity to put these words into writing. You’d think this was obvious. Clearly, it is not. My feeling is that it cannot be repeated enough.
Are you ready? Here it is.
Every single thing a parent does or says to their children will forever impact their self-esteem. Every word they say. Every game they play. Every single day. Every breath they take. Yes, just like the Sting song. Every behavior they model in terms of… EVERYTHING, will contribute to their child’s sense of security about not only themselves, but ultimately the way in which they build the self-esteem of their children (should they have any), their children’ children, and so on.
How’s that for pressure?
The science is in. There is no ambiguity on the subject. Parents are the most important factor when it comes to the building of a child’s self-esteem. Every interaction has the ability to forever impact in this regard and the ripple effects of how that self-esteem will affect not only the child, but others around them are to numerous to even begin to speculate or list.
So yes, knowledge is power and what seems as though it should be a fairly simple concept to execute is nothing of the kind. As the parent of two teenagers, I can tell you first hand that parenting is hard. I don’t believe there is a harder job in the universe. Our children can (and will) test our abilities and patience at virtually every turn. In many instances, they make it impossible for us to even want us to be supportive (let alone positive). And here’s the real bitch of that— It’s in those very instances that we absolutely need to rise to the occasion and look those very moments to build their self-esteem. They are the make or break moments.
The sad reality is, these are also the breaking points for some parents at which time they will resort to verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse; abuse that does the exact opposite of what they need to be doing in terms of modeling behavior. These are the very instances which can unfortunately be some of the defining moments in a person’s life.
This is all very easy for me to say and understand. But as a parent, when you’re on the front line and in the moment, I can tell you first hand that it’s extremely hard to keep this in mind. Like most worthwhile things, it takes tremendous work and effort to truly master the art of patience and understanding; even where your own children are concerned. Especially where your own kids are concerned. I’m talking about basically learning to ignore emotions and poor behaviors that your parents or primary caregiver most likely modeled for you when you were a child— primal instincts which taught you to explode, degrade and possibly even humiliate your children by telling them how horrifically awful they are and instead doing just the opposite. Instead of reacting from shear anger and frustration, take a breath— a minute, an hour, however long it takes to collect yourself so you can respond to them with thoughtful consideration. Not anger and hostility telling them how miserable and inconsiderate they are. That strategy has been proven to fail time and time again (without failure).
The thing we all need to try and remember where our children are concerned is that as human beings, we have a much greater propensity to remember hostility, criticism and abuse much clearer than anything else. Those are the images and memories that can haunt us until our dying day and unfortunately play a big part in determining how secure we are as individuals. I’m willing to bet almost anything that you have much more vivid memories of a time when your parents (or someone) was furious or abusive to you as opposed to a time when they showed you unexpected love and affection. Perhaps because of the traumatic nature of these interactions, these are the memories that have the deepest impact on character development and self-esteem.
If this is really resonating with you, try not to beat yourself up too much. Try and take refuge in the notion that performing this type of opposite or paradoxical behavior is extremely difficult and that if you struggle with it, that it’s not a personal character defect exclusive to you. Always reacting in exactly the right way is beyond difficult which makes it even more to the point of how and why these instances are so vital where the building of self-esteem is concerned.
Depending on your child’s age, speak to them from a place of personal concern and love rather than anger and judgement. Let them know how their behavior and actions affect you and the rest of your family. Explain to them how they’ve disappointed you and why what they’ve done is troubling, disrespectful and unacceptable. Don’t just tell them they’re miserable pieces of shit and leave it at that. Instead, let them know how their actions are hurtful and damaging both to themselves and others. And then— and this is really difficult—, find something positive to say to them. Remind them of how great they are and how much you love them. That everyone screws up and it’s part of the learning and growing process. If punishments are in order, make sure they are reasonable and appropriate; not abusive and humiliating. Most importantly, if it is an recurring problem, please remember to praise them when they get it right and not to just be there when they get it wrong.
It is important to note that if the problem behavior is ongoing or potentially harmful to themselves or others, counseling should be implemented. There could be larger, clinical issues at play that need to be addressed. And consider counseling not only for them, but for you as well. Perhaps even a parenting class. People have no problem taking a class to learn to drive a car and yet somehow, taking a parenting class is somehow an insulting proposition. Which do you think is harder? Driving a Ford or raising a human being?
There is no shame in getting help from trained professionals. After all, you are working the hardest job there is which unlike any normal job you will ever have, you cannot be replaced. You are a vital member of this system and there is a tremendous amount of pressure on you. You are not the first person to go through this. You are working to build a well-adjusted adult and not just have the perfect child. You are in the midst of a journey from which you will unleash a person unto the world where they will hopefully be productive, well-adjusted and secure.
So just remember, no pressure— EVERYTHING MATTERS.