Peruse the self-help section of any bookstore and you’ll find dozens of books about self-acceptance. Self-acceptance, or being happy with you are, is an essential component of overall happiness. In fact, most researchers will agree that self-acceptance and one’s overall level of happiness go hand in hand. The more you accept who you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly—the happier you tend to be in life.
Most parents will say they just want happy, confident kids. But the reality is we live in a very competitive world where the Tiger Mom mentality often prevails. There are plenty of messages telling you to push your kids to succeed at all costs. This really hit home for me after the birth of my first child. I vividly remember pushing my newborn in a stroller just as the elementary school across the street was letting out. At that point I was in the throes of sleep deprivation and completely overwhelmed. Then I heard two moms discussing enrichment classes. Despite the fact that their kids couldn’t have been more than 6 years old, they were already plotting a path to have their children attend the prestigious science and technology focused magnet high school in our area. These women were already thinking 8-9 years ahead while I barely had the energy to sign up for a new mom group. I was suddenly hit with a wave of anxiety.
These pressures to fit in and find the right path in life not only affect our sense of self but our children’s view of themselves and consequently their happiness. It has become increasingly difficult to shield children from all the messages that can chip away at their self-esteem. So how can we teach kids to be happy with who they are? Luckily, like all skills, self-acceptance is something that can be practiced and developed over time. Below are tips to help children learn to be happy with who they are.
Identify strengths. Help kids focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Make a list together. Try using prompts like “At school I am good at…” or “At home I am great at…” Add to the list over time so that kids can see their progress and growth.
Encourage positive self-talk. Teach children to counter their inner critic with positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is the positive things you say about yourself. Encourage kids to use positive self-talk when things don’t go their way. A simple shift in thinking can go a long way to helping them feel happier.
Monitor technology. Studies have shown that spending too much time on social media can diminish happiness. Limit children’s exposure to social media. Remind kids that most people only post the highlights of their life and heavily edit content. No one’s life is perfect.
Actions don’t define the person. Teach children that their actions do not define who they are. A bad choice doesn’t make someone a bad person. Psychologist Carol Dweck states, “children who are told they are smart when they do something smart start to believe they are dumb when they do something dumb.”
Praise effort regardless of outcome. Congratulate children on a well-played game, even if their team didn’t win. Acknowledge their hard work studying for an exam or the courage they showed when dealing with a difficult situation. Praising effort will teach children that excellence in action is more meaningful than a short term result.
By using these simple tips, you will give your child the skills necessary to embrace self-acceptance, even in difficult circumstances.