Self-worth comes from within. It has nothing to do with outward appearances. It is not based on how you look, what you wear, being popular, a career choice and it doesn’t come from a particular person or state of being etc. “Self-esteem is what we think and feel and believe about ourselves. Self-worth… is a deep knowing that I am of value, that I am loveable, necessary to this life, and of incomprehensible worth.” (Dr. Christina Hibbert 2013)
More than ever, children are exposed to so many more messages than they used to be. They are absolutely barraged with how to think, what constitutes a ‘good’ person, how to look, act and react, what to say, how to live and the list goes on. As parents we only have a few years to influence our children positively and sow the right seeds into their self-worth, which should be focused on inner strength, character, inner beauty, talents, kindness, empathy, humility, standing up for what they believe in and similar.
#1. Self-worth is not dependent on what other people say or think about you. Let’s face it there are people who like to tear others down and to criticize. Having a healthy self-worth means to stand strong in who you know you are, believing in yourself, not comparing yourself to other people, being true to yourself and how you value yourself. Other people’s opinions should not be the measuring stick for you and/or other external situations or events in your life. If your child has a circle of friends that are not encouraging, supportive and don’t have their back not matter what – it might be time to cut those ties and move on to find friends who do.
#2. Self-worth is not linked to failure, limitations, personal weaknesses and the like. Everyone fails, can be limited and has weaknesses and so we try again, keep going, keep learning and get help with our weaknesses (whether it’s improving ourselves in certain areas or drawing from other peoples’ strengths). All of these things can be discussed around the family table, with each person contributing their own personal failures, so an atmosphere of empathy can be created and look for examples of positives in every situation. An expectation of perfection should not be placed upon our children and certainly should not be linked to self-worth.
#3. Be their role model. Your children are listening and watching you. What you say, how you act and react will be inadvertently teaching them how you view yourself and your life. It’s very simple, if you attach your self-worth to ‘physical things’, appearance, wealth, the number of friends you have, career, social status, so will they. All of the above things are only temporary and will only give someone a temporary ‘boost’ in regards to their self-esteem and how they feel about themselves, it will never produce a strong self-worth. It might be a good time to re-evaluate what your self-worth is linked to?
#4. Self-talk. How children talk to themselves comes from what they believe in their inner self about themselves – from their heart. I remember working on my Masters Degree in Criminology and I had to study self-talk from children of all ages. It horrified me that most of the children in grade 1 were already putting themselves down and had very low self-esteem. It’s never too early to have conversations about self-talk with your child, before they form opinions or patterns of thinking about themselves that are difficult to break and will hugely impact their self-worth. You can help them to separate the actual problem from their self-worth, by addressing how they are feeling and praising your child’s efforts and/attitudes, explaining that negative self-talk is mostly related to fear and work on useful strategies to deal with that fear.
#5. It’s the inside that counts, not the outer person. Teaching children to notice the inner beauty in themselves and others takes the focus from the outer to the inner. If we are teaching our children to place value and self-worth on how someone looks, how famous they are, how rich they are, etc. then we are setting them up for a very unhappy unfulfilled life. Someone can look like they have it all, and be a complete mess on the inside and behind closed doors where there are no cameras. Physical things will only provide a fleeting feeling of contentment and happiness, but the intangible qualities like peace, joy, kindness, love, inner strength, patience, empathy etc. will fulfill a person for a life time.
All children need to be shown respect, positive regard and unconditional love. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if we show children that we love and appreciate them for exactly who and what they are, they will learn that it is okay to love themselves for the same reasons. This way we are teaching them they do not have to achieve anything to earn our love, which will contribute greatly to their self-worth.