I did not grow up often hearing that I was smart (although I was) or that I was pretty (I had my good days). In fact, I did not know my worth at all until I thought I could find it in boys. BIG MISTAKE. Unfortunately, it’s an all too common one.
There was no way I wanted my daughter to follow that same path, so from a very early age I built her foundation of worth with a continuous flow of positive words — none of which focused solely on her obvious beauty:
You are so incredibly smart.
You are so incredibly kind.
You have such a great personality!
I am so proud of you and who you are.
It helps that they’re all true, but even if they weren’t, I’d say them anyway. I have always commended her strong spirit, her way with words, her compassion, and her generosity. If you ask her how she feels about herself she’d tell you that she’s awesome. The beauty in that is that she genuinely believes it. I’ve crammed it so far down her throat she has no other choice but to swallow it.
I believe that’s what good parents have to do.
Parents cannot wait until their children display qualities that they’re proud of before they start sharing praises. And I cannot tell you how damaging I think it is, to little girls especially, if all they hear are praises about their looks. I believe this teaches them to value outer beauty over inner beauty. It’s a recipe for self-esteem disaster. That’s not to say we shouldn’t tell them how cute or adorable they are, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus of parental praise.
I believe there is cause for celebration in every achievement no matter how small — not necessarily ticker-tape parade worthy, but worthy all the same. This is not to say to sugar coat things when they screw up or to over embellish mediocrity. I certainly haven’t. In fact, when they screw up, I’m the first to call them out on it in order to correct them. Cause for simple celebrations, to me, means giving them strength before they ask for it or need it. It means offering gratitude, respect, and pride merely at the fact that they exist in your world and not because they need to earn it.
It’s easy to forget how much they need that when our lives are careening every which way in order to keep up with the house, work, school, and all the other life activities that get in the way. I feel that parents have to make the time to remember the precious foundation and provide what is needed to make and keep it strong. In fact, it might be one of the most important responsibilities in parenthood.
I went so far as to create an esteem jar.
It’s a simple little jar I got on clearance years ago after Valentine’s Day. Inside it there are 50-60 sheets of paper with odes to my daughter — everything from a simple I love you, to how smart she is, to all the different reasons that she is wonderful. Not reasons that I think she’s wonderful, but all the reasons that she *IS* wonderful. There’s a difference there.
I sat down with her when she was eight and explained what the jar was for:
Any time you feel down or you’ve had a bad day or for whatever reason you’re simply not feeling good enough, I want you to open this jar and take out a piece of paper and read it. If it doesn’t remind you of how remarkable you are, how worthy you are, I want you to read another one. Then another. You keep doing that until you feel your soul start to smile again.
It has been four years since I gave her that jar and for three of those years it sat on her nightstand. She’s admitted to opening it often. One night she said she sat for an hour and read every piece of paper in there. She has suffered through bullying, mean friends, school changes, and various tribulations in her young life and, yet, she tries to hold her head high. She has visions of college and of giving back and of changing the world. She believes she’s destined for something fantastic. I know that a large part of her high self-esteem is because we’ve laid a solid foundation of worth. No matter what comes her way she knows that she’s not going to find it anywhere else but within herself.
Of course, as she hits those teenage years I know some things will change. I know her decisions may not always be smart ones, but I have no doubts that her path will not be anything like mine. She already displays more character than I ever had and continues to amaze me at how strong & determined she is to be her own person -someone that not only we are proud of, but that she is proud of, too.