We all want to raise successful children who have a high sense of self-worth and love themselves and their lives. We also know that to do this, we need to watch what we say to them – not to label them or call them names, not to consciously put them down or compare them to other kids or their siblings, and to make a habit of praising their efforts and recognising their strengths. But have you ever thought about the underlying messages that your children pick up from the things you’re unconsciously doing or saying?
We experienced this with my daughter one weekend when we were away with friends. She approached my husband and asked him, “Daddy, why do you love those people more than me?” He was, of course, shocked and said that of course he didn’t, to which she replied, “Then why do you spend all your time with them?”
Children are making all sorts of assumptions based on our behavior, and these hidden messages that you don’t know you’re giving off directly affect their sense of self-worth, confidence and later success in life.
Imagine that you are in a restaurant with your little one and he blows bubbles in his milkshake (as all children do) a little too hard, spilling it all over the table and your new bag. As you freak out – “Arrrgh, what a mess, you’ve ruined my new bag, why did you have to do that?!”, could there possibly be a hidden message that the bag is more important than him? Or that it’s not ok to make mistakes?
Do we really want our kids growing up afraid to make mistakes? Isn’t fearlessness and the ability to take action and recover quickly from mistakes the mark of a successful person? And aren’t people ALWAYS more important than things?
Or perhaps imagine yourself on the phone to your service provider for a neverending issue that you’re having with your Internet connection. As you scream and shout and generally lose the plot, what do you think your child is learning about the worth of other people? About how to handle challenging situations? About what constitutes something worth getting worked up about? About our ability as human beings to remain peaceful within regardless of what is going on around us?
How you spend your time, your reactions to little daily occurrences, how you navigate your relationships – these are the things that your children are watching and learning from, not the things that you consciously lecture them about over dinner. What are they learning from you? You’ll be surprised how much they pick up on – even when you think they’re not watching or listening. Little sponges, remember.
So it’s not just about the things that you consciously say to your children, but also what you say to and about yourself and to other people in their presence. We need to be very self-aware if we are to raise kids with a strong sense of self-worth. The best way to do this is to work on yourself – make a plan to deal with your stress levels, let go of your past, and heal your old wounds. Our unconscious behavior needs to be in alignment with what we consciously want for our kids. So when we raise ourselves successfully we have a much higher chance of raising successful children!