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Encourage Feelings of Self-worth in Young Children

As I put my son to bed tonight, a routine I have completed on the vast majority of nights during his little life, I found myself lingering a little longer. I found myself studying the sweet, perfect profile of his face as he slowly drifted into sleep. Every night in conjunction with bedtime story and prayers, we each say at least one thing that we felt thankful for that day. On this particular evening I told him I felt grateful for a positive day at work, seeing the sun shining on my way home, and being able to play a game of Crazy 8s before bedtime. He then contributed his own gratitude for "having a nice dinner", which surprised me since he had eaten such a small amount, and "beating mommy at Crazy 8s”. It is not unusual for me to feel intense gratitude in these final, peaceful moments of my day with my little boy. However tonight, as I watched him drift into sleep I felt a much stronger urge of “wish”. I wished he would always be able to find this feeling of peacefulness. I wished he would always know this feeling of safety and comfort, snuggled in under blankets & multiple stuffies with his mama cuddled in next to him. I wished he will always be able to find even a small piece of gratitude at the end of his day. And then I found myself whispering softly into his ear, “I wish you will always know that you are loved. I wish you will always know how amazing you are, just as you are. I wish you will always know how worthy you are, being exactly who you are.”

How can we help to support and encourage feelings of worthiness, wholeness and self-love in our children? While there are many different ways to build a child up in these areas, below I have listed just a few ways that may encourage these qualities:

  • Praise specifically

  • What does saying "Good Job!" really teach our children about themselves and their strengths? Try to be descriptive and specific when you praise--making important note of the EFFORT they put in. For example, "I love how hard you are working on building that tower." It is also imperative to draw attention to the actions and behaviors we want to see more of, "Thank you for being so patient, I know it feels hard to wait in this line." This helps to draw attention to the child's inner strengths, and can help them to learn that they are so many different, wonderful things all mixed into one amazing being.

  • Explore their own emotions and self-regulation strategies

  • Starting with emotional identification can help to start your child out on the path for having emotional regulation acceptance of themselves. Being able to label and identify a feeling is necessary in order to have a healthy understanding of themselves and their emotions. Once they understand what it is, they can move through it. Big feelings are guaranteed to occur, but if you can help you child understand that all of their feelings are OK and acceptable, you help them to also better accept and love themselves--regardless of what they are feeling in that moment.

  • Take time to tell your child you love and appreciate them, as they are

  • Making an intentional effort to tell your child they are loved and appreciated for who they are helps to affirm their feelings of worthiness and love. While not all the time, we tend to praise or tell our children they are loved in response to an action---after they did something well or when demonstrating a positive behavior. While this is not incorrect by any means, we want to also help our children know they are loved simply for existing and being present in our lives. We want to reassure them that they have our love unconditionally, regardless of action, behavior or achievement. Your language may vary depending on your child's age but the message is the same: "I love you just for being here."

  • Modeling is magic

  • As with so very many things in child development, modeling once again plays a role. If you yourself struggle to show love and kindness to yourself, your child will pick up on this. Consider the language you use to talk about yourself, is it kind? Is your child able to watch you take time for yourself and do things you enjoy? It is also Ok if this is something you are working on. We are all in different stages of self-acceptance, regardless of our age. We are each on our own journey towards being our truest version of ourselves--again, take the time you need to nurture your relationship with yourself--this is the ultimate in modeling self-love.

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