Where Words Once Shaped Me
I was around three years old when I became aware of my body. I can vividly remember feelings of shame upon hearing that my legs were “chunky,” my front two teeth were abnormally far apart, and that my voice was way too deep to be a girl. I’m sure that those remarks weren’t intended to be harmful, but they were spoken out of thoughtlessness and they stuck to this little girl’s heart. Of course, I can remember positive comments as well; but the negative ones planted a deep seed early that would take years to uproot. I had confidence on the outside, but most of my elementary through college years were spent internally comparing myself relentlessly, always feeling less than in every aspect.
My little girl is three. I look at her and want so badly to shield her from those types of hurts. Sometimes I think, Have I ever said anything or expressed an attitude without thought that could be damaging to my children? I read once that trying to protect our children from everything harmful is impossible (obviously), but we can purposefully help them prepare for what the world throws their way, starting right here at home.
Shortly after we became parents, I began reading all types of studies, devotions, and articles trying to figure out how to raise our tiny new roommate and not make a complete wreck of it. Like, I may have even googled it. Spoiler – there’s no manual.
Once while exploring some of these resources, I came across an article about fostering self-esteem in children. It helped me consider how we can encourage healthy growth in all areas of our children’s lives, and to begin as early as possible. It made me want our home to be a safe place – where everyone feels free to be honest, finds grace for mistakes made, will be encouraged, and can learn the importance of building others up, too.
I Want to be That Family
What our children are presented with helps shape what they believe, especially from those that they trust. These are a few things we try to uphold in our home:
How We Speak
- No negative talk about ourselves, period. We are all smart, beautiful, strong, brave, and created for a purpose. I know that there will come a day when I have to tell Marin she is built with strong legs like Mama. I pray she finds confidence and appreciation for them much earlier than I did. Also, numbers on the scale and on our clothing tags don’t say anything about who we are, so in my opinion, they’re useless around here.
- Don’t speak critically of others, especially our spouse and other loved ones. This includes facial expressions, which will be an ongoing challenge for me until the day I die. We want to model valuing and loving each other unconditionally.
- Be careful not to call attention other people’s appearances. I don’t want to practice or pass on the perception that the way someone else looks makes them inferior or that the way we look makes us less than, either. There will be a day when one of our children asks, “Why does that person look/act different?” and I want them to know that “different” is not a negative word.
- Be mindful of how we talk about food and exercise. Healthy choices are about overall well-being, not how they will make us appear. Trying to steer clear of negative associations is challenging; I am personally guilty of saying things like, “I can just look at someone else hold a cookie and gain a pound” (cringe). We eat healthy foods to fuel our bodies, exercise because it is fun (ish) and makes us feel good, and treat ourselves occasionally because we deserve it.
Interactions with Others
- No comparisons. This is a hard one, especially parenting. I have certainly fallen prey to the thoughts of Is there something wrong with my child who can’t potty train at 18 months like so-and-so? or My baby can only say six-and-a-half words, and this kid can fully sign the alphabet, so we are obviously behind. Allowing our kids to see us compare in that way teaches them that instead of cultivating what we have and our particular path, to allow in a void that was never meant for us.
- Represent humility and sincere kindness to others by taking opportunities to show love in small ways. Holding doors open, asking how someone’s day is going (and sincerely listening), helping each other do chores, or even giving away a kind smile to a stranger helps us remember and show our children that every person matters.
- Praise each other for big and little things. Effort is also as deserving of praise as performance. We don’t always nail it either, and there is something to be said for the lessons learned in the places where we just miss the mark.
And Most Importantly . . .
- Affirmations at night to remind them what their Creator says about them, no matter what their day has held. It’s important to us that they hear often how thankful we are for them, and that God chose them specifically for our family. Even when they poop on the back porch or paint their face with a brand-new makeup palette (currently holding back the side-eye).
I feel a bit guilty sharing these things — with all of our three years of experience — because if I were to give ourselves a grade on it, we’d likely earn a solid 50% . . . on a good day. But we are trying, and as far as I can tell, that’s all parenting is – getting up each day and just trying our best to guide these little ones that have been entrusted to us.
I’d love to hear what other principles/values you practice in your home to cultivate confidence in kids!