From Full Steam to Self Esteem

Dear Bloggers,

My eldest daughter is a bit shy when it comes to making new contacts, but with a little help from her parents she is getting less and less a creep mouse and gets slowly more self esteem. Learns quickly if it comes to nasty situations and loves to argue with her mom. I have the feeling that she is growing in the right way.
Self-Esteem:  The Best Gift You Can Give
When I am asking the question, “How many of you think your parents loved you as a child?” most of the people tell me that they are being loved by at least one of them. Then my next question is:  “How do you mean that did you really felt loved as a child?”  Just a few of them remain with the same answer.  No matter where I ask, the response is generally the same.  What does this mean for us as parents? Should we raise our kids differently ?

Self-esteem, especially in children, is closely linked to a feeling of being loved, of being lovable.  Whether we know it or not, we are “teaching” self-esteem, or a lack of it, to our children all the time.  For the most part, children look to the adults in their environment, and later to their peers, for a reflection of who they are and how they are.  Children are observers, who soak up every bit of information we provide. No matter what if these are our words, facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, touch and the conclusions they draw (“I am important,” “I don’t matter,” “I am loved,” “I’m a nuisance”) then become their “truth” about themselves and what they deserve in life. 
We, as parents, have the choice to teach unconsciously by repeating the patterns that our own parents used with us, or to make a conscious choice to pass on the values we would like to see perpetuated.  It is not always right but also not everything they thought you was wrong, maybe some of them were badly explained.

My advise is: Pass on the best and throw out the rest.  An important place to begin conscious awareness is to take an honest look at your own childhood.  Remember what it was like growing up in your family.  What did your parents do to make you feel loved?  Was their love conditional or unconditional?  How did they discipline you?  Did they believe children need to be controlled?  How did they communicate and resolve problems with you and with each other?  What helped you to feel good about yourself, and what led you to believe you were “bad,” that there was something wrong with you?  Try not to idealize your experiences, but rather remember what it felt like to grow up in your family.  Not remembering painful memories leaves you at greater risk of repeating those behaviors with your own children.

Our parents, being human and lacking the tools available today, made mistakes, but we can choose to learn from those mistakes rather than repeating them.  Our children give us the opportunity to become the parents we wished we would have had.  When my mother died, I thanked her for giving me the passion to parent a different way.

It is better to prepare than to repair.  Fostering positive self-esteem from the beginning is easier and healthier than trying to repair a negative self-concept later in life.  Here are some of the major factors that contribute to self-esteem:
High Self-Esteem
Respect (valuing), Acceptance, Affection, Attention, Being listened to, Play, Laughter, and Positive reinforcement (compliments, support, encouragement, believing in, acknowledgement)
Low Self-Esteem
Disrespect, Rejection, Abuse of any kind, Being ignored or neglected, Not being listened to, Perfectionism and comparison, Negative reinforcement (put-downs, criticism, judgment, labeling, name calling, ridicule, humiliation)

Self-esteem begins with self-love, with respecting, accepting, and taking care of you.  This love spills over to your children, who learn to love themselves and to love you.  Self-esteem also depends on unconditional love: love with respect, empathy, acceptance, sensitivity, and warmth.  Unconditional love says, “Regardless of what you do, I love and accept you for who you are.” 

Bite your tongue.  I have noticed that when I am stressed, preoccupied, or operating form an unconscious mode (not being present), words slip out of my mouth that I wish I had not said.  I can totally explode when I am in a bad day and having nasty mood swings. My children’s self-esteem suffers and so does mine.  Healthy families remind each other of their goodness; unhealthy families remind each other of their failings.  Take time to regularly remind yourself of your goals and values what you want for your children—and you will create that consciously.

Flip your focus.  Many of us have been taught to catch ourselves and our children being “bad.”  Instead of looking for shortcomings, and what is wrong, focus on the terrific aspects. Reinforce the positive and tell your children what you want, not what you do not want.

Examine your expectations.  Expectations that are not developmentally appropriate set our children up for failure and set us up for disappointment.  Expectations that are too low tell our children that we do not believe in them.  Maintain a balance between high expectations for yourself and your children, and then cheer each other on.

When you are good to yourself, you feel good about yourself.  I wished that my mother had told me how to take care of me, rather than valuing me as the caretaker.  A large part of self-esteem comes from feeling that we deserve to be happy, to have fun, to enjoy life, to do the things we want to do.  Many times, we unwittingly provide low self-esteem models to our children by rationalizing that we no longer have the time or money to do nice things for ourselves.
Here is a good exercise in self-nourishment.  Make a list of 20 activities you enjoy doing that do not require lots of money or elaborate planning (like taking a hot bath while listening to music with candlelight).  It is especially revealing if you take note of the last time you actually did these activities.  Make a commitment to do at least one activity from your list every day.  This can become a family activity too, with each family member reminding and encouraging the others to be good to themselves.

Get rid of what you do not want and replace it with what you do.  Listen to what you say to yourself during the course of each day.  Turn up the volume and tune into your thoughts: “That was dumb.” “I’m too fat.” “I’m not good enough.”  As you hear the messages, write them down.  Where did they come from?  The reason most people feel bad about themselves is they keep telling themselves how awful they are.  For every statement you record, think of a way to say what you really want to believe about yourself, and jot down an affirmation as a reminder.  Turn your “stinking thinking” into positive self-talk.  You will be surprised what happens not only for you but also for your children. 

When you are having fun together, love just happens.  Think about your weekly activities and how much time you spend with your children having fun.  How much time to do you devote to play?  Most of us have narrowed down the realm of play to a set of tennis on the weekend, or maybe renting a video.  We have forgotten the delights of make-believe, building forts, setting up a toy store, and swimming with a friend.  Luckily, our children are the best teachers we could possibly have to help us recover the child within us.  Play brings a special closeness to family relationships, and when you or your children are feeling out of sorts, laughter is the best medicine.

Discipline without damage.  I often ask other parents what comes to their mind when I say the word discipline.  The most common response is punishment. Discipline is a teaching process where we help our children to be self-regulated.  When our children “misbehave” we may react as our parents did and shame or blame.  When anyone feels attacked, they will shut down to protect themselves from our harmful words.  “I” statements indicate clearly what we are feeling and ask for a specific change in behavior: “I feel_______, when you______, and I need ________.  Taking the time to formulate an “I” statement allows you to step back and look objectively at why your buttons are being pushed.  What is coming up in you from your past?  Then you can decide if this particular issue is a leftover value inherited from your parents.  It may come up, for example, that you do have strong feelings about being spoken to disrespectfully, or that you don’t really care if your child clothes are clean enough to wear a second day.
Finding new ways to discipline involves replacing the old reward and punishment system with natural and logical consequences. 

Joy shared is joy doubled; sorrow shared is sorrow cut in half.  In the past, extended families were the rule, rather than the exception.  We no longer have that built-in support system and need to create our own support systems by reaching out to neighbors, coworkers, and friends when things get tough or when we just what to share our experience of parenthood. 

Listen, listen, listen.  We all know what it feels like to have something to say and the person we want to talk to is not listening.  Most people need to improve their listening skills. Eventhough the one who is talking is a boring talker he or she deserves a listening ear.  I am improving my listening skills.  When you listen to your children, look them in the eye (at their eye level), set aside judgment and criticism, tune into nonverbal cues, and let them finish speaking.  Then, reflect a feeling back to them, from their point of view (using their words): “You must have felt_____” or “It sounds like you were _____.”  If your reply is right, they will know you heard them and understood what they said. If your reply is wrong, they will know that their message did not get through, and they can try to restate it more clearly.  This is “win-win” communication, and it enhances everyone’s self-esteem.

Let go of perfectionism.  My wife was a perfectionist and was a master at keeping the house nice and tidy. I am aware of how I did not develope that same tendency as my mom was in that case not wanting to be perfect. My children have helped her to recover from the mistaken belief that anything must be perfect and straight and the other ones could help you to make it nearly perfect.  Because perfectionists have impossible expectations, they are usually frustrated, disappointed, and angry about the strangest things.  Perfectionism creates stress for the entire family and if you are able to change to a less perfect life. There will be many things changed in your life as people around you have to adapt to you as a “new” person. Yes this is hard for persons that have been around you for many years and lost control about this new you. Never mind that they are angry but they should pick up and try the new you. 

In the beginning it is hard to let go of perfectionism, add more joy, play, and silliness to your life.  Be gentler with yourself and others. A mistake does not mean you are a failure, but rather provides an opportunity to learn.  When children make mistakes, their self-esteem often suffers; but when they are encouraged to “fix” those mistakes, their self-esteem rises.  The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.

What goes around comes around.  A wonderful reward of conscious parenting is that our children give back to us the same care, support, and encouragement that we give to them.  My children are my best cheerleaders since the beginning of my illness together with the changes in my career. They remind me of the fact that perfectionism is not needed and I should let go of it. I’d better look at my ability to succeed something that I can do and they are in there to support me. They have encouraged me to take risks and we have co-created a winning family in which everyone feels like a success.  It is not easy to create a “win-win” situation in our “win-lose” culture.  It is worth the effort though.  Happiness and connection happen when you replace old negative habits with new high self-esteem behaviors and attitudes.  It all begins with self-awareness and a conscious choice.

The Old Sailor,


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