Have you noticed how young kids are into sunglasses? It’s no longer just a thing for adults or even teens. Two-year-olds and three-year-olds love sunglasses. It doesn’t matter that they can hardly keep them on their faces or that they are indoors. It’s not about the sun. It’s about wearing sunglasses and acting grown-up, being like mom or dad or big sister.

Now teenagers have more concern about what others think of them.  It’s important to wear the “in” brand of clothing or dress like their friends.  I think all of us can remember wanting to fit in.

It’s useful for us as parents to acknowledge this need, not overly resist it, and to help our teens reflect on the appropriate balance between fitting in and being their unique selves.

Being proud of who we are and knowing others are proud of us is part of our self-esteem. We want to be noticed, to have people pay attention to us. We feel validated. While superficially self-esteem might be wrapped up in our sense of whether we look cool, at a deeper level, it’s about these things:

  • feeling included and having a sense of belonging
  • being appreciated for who we are as a person
  • knowing we add value to family and friends
  • having a positive set of thoughts about ourselves

Let’s look at each of these elements and think about how you might enhance each of your children’s sense of self.

Feeling included and belonging:

  • Invite your children to participate in what you are doing.
  • Ask for their input on family decisions.
  • Make space for them to be around you.
  • Let them know you like it when they are in the same room.

Being appreciated for who we are:

  • Let them know what you like about them.
  • Acknowledge their accomplishments.
  • Remind them of their strengths.
  • Let them know of their positive impact on you.

Knowing we add value:

  • Assign them chores that are useful to the family.
  • Ask for their help with the things you need done.
  • Notice when they do something that adds value.
  • Acknowledge when their ideas are useful to you.
  • Ask them to show you how to do things.

Having positive thoughts about ourselves:

  • Remind them of what they are good at.
  • Refer to their behavior with value statements (kind, thoughtful, confident).
  • Ask them what they like about themselves.
  • Tell them what you admire about them.

I remember Jesse being asked to write a paper in the first grade about what he liked about himself. It was wonderful.

This need for acceptance and approval starts early, and if sunglasses help a young child feel grown up or wearing the right brand clothing helps a teen fit in, I’m all for it. This is probably the easy part of contributing to your child’s development.

The harder part—the vitally important part—involves having conversations with your kids that include listening fully to them and authentically considering what they say. It’s about finding ways for them to contribute to you, to the family, and to whatever is happening in your lives today.

It’s also about avoiding the limiting or negative conversations that might take away from your child’s self-esteem. Catch yourself using words that simply don’t add value—these tend to be judgmental words like lazy, clumsy, selfish, thoughtless, greedy. Some things are better left unsaid.

I received this from a friend when I asked about her stories:

“I remember my mom saying to my sisters and me, ‘Who do you think you are?’ Inevitably, I would reply, ‘Nobody. I don’t think I’m anybody.’

   “Later, I had to take control of my own sense of self to overcome this belief, because if you think you’re ‘nobody,’ you settle for very little, you allow yourself to be in diminishing relationships, and you don’t expect good things to happen to you. I changed this for myself, but many people do not.

   “On a more upbeat note, I remember saying to my youngest sister when she was very little, ‘You really are a great observer.’ Today she’s a museum curator, and she says it has something to do with that comment I made to her when she was just a little kid.”

So, make sure your kids know that you like who they are as a person, that you love spending time with them and are deeply interested in what they think, feel, and know. These are your gifts to them, and they’re as important to their eventual success in life as summer camps or a new computer or a college savings account.


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