I’ve just read a blog post by Brene Brown about an Oprah interview with author Toni Morrison which really made me think about my behaviour as a parent.
In the interview with Oprah, Toni speaks about how we can influence a child’s confidence and their self-image in ways that we don’t even realise. Here’s the link to the original post by Brene.
According to Toni, children gather information about their parents’ feeling towards them based on their initial reactions (whether they be positive or negative) on each meeting.
For instance, as a parent, do you immediately pick up on your child’s uncombed hair, food stained clothes, muddy shoes etc?
Or do you smile, happy to see them, first?
When I read this, I thought to my own behaviour, and recognised that I can be quick to criticise, without even intending to.
The problem isn’t with the criticism itself – as parents, we need to be able to tell our children not to get mud on the carpet etc – but what’s important is that the criticism isn’t the first thing they always hear.
What is that criticism (if it’s the first thing out of your mouth) telling them about themselves and what you think about them? Does your body language, or do your words, demonstrate your love, or does it tell them there is something wrong with their appearance, behaviour or choices?
If you don’t think well of them, how can they think well of themselves? And how will these micro-criticisms impact their self-esteem in the long term?
This interests me, not only as a parent, but as a nutritional therapist. A person’s health and wellbeing is all tied up in self-esteem and stress.
If we don’t think well of ourselves we send ourselves negative messages:
You’re such a mess.
Why can’t you do a simple thing like that?
What an idiot!
These self-criticisms – where we can’t be kind to ourselves – become a form of stress.
As I’ve mentioned previously, stress affects cortisol levels which, if not managed, can negatively impacts health – both mental and physical.
So how can we help our kids to develop better attitudes towards themselves and as a result, become healthier adults?
Well, I suppose initially, that lies with us and our behaviour towards them. The way we react to our kids can either enhance of undermine self-image and resilience. If we manage our reactions positively, this ultimately has a beneficial impact on their future health.
As Brene says in her blog post, don’t let the first comment to your child each time you see them be a negative one. By being kind to them, we teach them to be kind to themselves.
Say something nice, or “flash a smile” before you ask them to move their belongings (that have taken up residence on the living room floor for the last three days!)
Even if they don’t show it, your smile or kind words will mean so much, and it’s another way of telling them you love them.
Plus, it also takes the sting out of the fact they’ve got to clear up after themselves!
I’m going to try it.
What about you?