One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a good sense of self. To be raised with the knowledge that it is okay, maybe even wonderful, that you are who you are. How powerful it is to realize that your imperfections can be your greatest strengths. Imperfection is what makes us unique and beautiful. How potent to know that one does not need to conform to contribute.
How many times have you heard the phrase, “She just needs to find herself”? Maybe you had to undertake this journey yourself. Where does this sense of being lost stem from? What does it mean? When we try to conform to what our parents, friends, society expects of us we fail to develop our own sense of self.
We often encourage our children to conform to society with the excuse that we don’t want them to be hurt. The truth is, we don’t want to be seen as too different. We select a group and stick with them even when we don’t agree with some of their beliefs. So often we teach our children, through our actions, not to form strong convictions, or at least, not to stand up for them. We fear ridicule. This is natural, however it’s not healthy.
When we are confident in who we are, ridicule doesn’t affect us the same way. We may look at it as an indicator that the person is uncomfortable with themselves, as is usually the case. Or we may look at what is said to see if there is any validity to it. Maybe we went too far, or misunderstood something. Maybe we are misunderstood.
Our children need to know that they have worth. They need to know that it is a gift to be in their presence. And that the presence of others is also a gift. I know, you’re all nervous about your child being too proud and full of themselves. A person becomes prideful to try and convince themselves and the people around them that they have worth. It stems from insecurity, not confidence.
The first step in fostering a good sense of self in our young is to allow them to express their emotions and to help them identify what they are feeling. Before my daughter could even talk we began identifying what she was feeling. A baby has different cries. One of those is anger, another frustration and they coo when happy and so on. We learn their language to take care of them properly, now simply play it back to them. ‘Oh I see that you are frustrated. Mommy can’t pick you up right now baby, you need to wait. I’m sorry’ ‘My you are angry. There’s no need to be angry, let’s calm down now. Come on, breathe deep.’
Whenever your child becomes upset, you can help them self soothe by instructing them to breathe deeply. Breathe with them, deeply and slowly. It may take a few moments, but they will match your breath. This lesson lasts a lifetime.
When you can identify what is happening in your own heart, it is much easier to identify it in others and become more empathetic, giving you a better handle on potentially volatile situations. Also, when you can identify your emotions, you can explore what you are reacting to.
Emotions are often layered. The more layers, the more work to reveal the actual trigger or hurt. When we react to someone or something in anger, it generally is a sign of a wound. Look beneath the anger and you will find fear and or pain. Anger is a defense mechanism. It protects us from the deeper emotions and can be useful in keeping us safe. If we react in anger when under attack, we will defend ourselves. This decreases the likelihood of being attacked again in the same way. But sometimes the anger is unwarranted and simply covering up an old wound we haven’t healed. In this circumstance we need to identify the wound and heal it, or at least acknowledge it.
As adults we most likely have lots of wounds covered by a ton of reactive emotion. If we don’t want our kids to be the same emotionally messy individuals, we need to teach them to take care of things as they appear, rather than bury them for later examination. This will leave them with the energy and courage to achieve their goals, hopefully.
If we want our children to talk to us and express how they really feel we need to become masters at the art of listening. It is painful to watch your child’s pain bubble up to the surface, but resist the urge to take it on as your own. Resist the temptation to try and fix it for them, and even to express your outrage at first. Your job is to simply listen and allow your child to delve into their emotions in safety; No judgment, no one telling them to stop crying, or that what they’re expressing is nonsense or unwarranted. Ask questions about what they are feeling [make sure you wait until they are ready] and eventually ask what they think the other people in the situation are feeling.
The world becomes a different place when we acknowledge that everyone is fighting some kind of battle. Being able to pull back from a situation and relinquish any roles – whether bad guy, victim or hero – can bring a level of clarity and wholeness that is priceless. When this is practiced in daily living compassion is our touchstone and the world becomes much easier to navigate. We realize that nothing is truly personal. We are all just seeking attention, love and clarity. We accomplish this in compassion.
My father taught me that if you see injustice done and don’t act against it, you are just as guilty as the perpetrator. He instilled in us a great sense of morality; True, humane morality, not the kind that leads to war and intolerance. He taught us the kind of morality that defends the defenseless and protects the weak. I cannot stand by and watch a person being verbally abused, just as much as I cannot watch a dog being beaten. My parents instilled in us the strength and conviction to stand up for ourselves and others.
I have heard the saying “no good deed goes unpunished”, that kind of sentiment is what destroys integrity. It gives excuse not to act, to be a part of the problem. Yes, there are consequences, but if it’s your child, brother, mother in trouble, what would you want others to do? Jesus said “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”. In other words treat people the way you want to be treated. How much strength we gather from another’s kindness! It is immeasurable. It can change a life, give hope. Let people know that there is goodness in the world. Isn’t that the world you want your children to grow up in?
Intuitive Parent Coach
Geralyn St Joseph
serving parents and children worldwide