As a child growing up in a South Asian environment, one of the cultural values passed down to me was to always ‘put others before myself.’ I saw my parents putting others' needs before their own and was encouraged to do the same. Giving up your evening walk to cook dinner for the family was considered par for course. To think of yourself as an individual with individual needs, was almost considered ‘being selfish’.
As this view was endorsed by extended family, school, friends and most people I met in my cultural environment, it’s little wonder that it took me well into my 40’s to learn to draw boundaries for myself. To learn that being aware of my needs and ensuring they are met is not being selfish but a form of self care.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I started to wonder if in all this talk of loving others, shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to love themselves first?
As an adult, I’m only just starting my journey on self- love. Do I really want my kids to learn to love themselves only in their 40’s? Or can I do something about it now?
When we don’t teach our little ones to love themselves, they fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour - people pleasing or constantly seeking external validation or approval. This leads to poor decision making skills and an inability to set boundaries that can hamper not just social relationships but also their working capability as an adult.
So, what can we do about it?
1.Define Self Love
Start by explaining self love to your kids. Love is a big word and can be expressed in many different ways. Self love is accepting and celebrating everything that makes ‘you’ you - your brain, your body and your feelings and emotions. Self love is being kind and caring for yourself, the way one would act towards a friend.
2. Role Model Self Love
It’s not enough to tell our kids to love themselves. They need to see us loving ourselves too. How am I modeling self love? Do I constantly moan about putting on weight? Do I watch Netflix endlessly at night and wake up sleep deprived? Do I have a hard time saying no? Do I work long hours and not prioritize physical exercise? Am I prioritizing others’ needs before my own? Be aware of the lessons they are learning from you.
3. Practice Self Care
Self care means different things for different people. But it all comes down to, ‘How are you looking after your mind, your body and your feelings?’ Make self care part of your and your little one’s routine. Make time to exercise. Write your feelings in a journal. Your little ones can keep a sticker journal to express how they’re feeling. Rest your brain. Spend time daydreaming.
4. Invite Their Opinion
Get your little ones involved in decision making processes. What should we eat for dinner? What should we wear today? State your concerns. We need to make sure we have enough vegetables so our tummy is taken care of. It’s cold outside so we may need to wear something warm. When they feel like they are contributing, they start to value their own opinions and thoughts.
5. Encourage A Growth Mindset
Praising effort versus results. Keep the focus on the process and what we’ve learnt from it. “You worked really hard on the project.” “I can see the effort you put into tying your shoelaces on your own.” “What will you do differently next time?”
6. Ask Them How They Feel
As adults, we are quick to impose our feelings onto our little ones. ‘I’m so happy you won the race. I’m so proud.’ Instead, you can say. “You won! How do you feel?” Turning the attention back on them makes them tune into their emotions and not yours. A simple switch to ensure that they are always tuned into their emotions.
7. Teach Them That Self Love Isn’t Being Selfish
One of the biggest lessons that they can learn is that one can love themselves while being kind and caring towards others. You are not being selfish if you set up healthy boundaries for yourself. It’s okay to say, ‘I can’t help you right now as I’m in the middle of something. But I will help you once I’m done.”
8. Encourage Positive Self Talk or Affirmations
We all need reinforcement on a regular basis. We don’t develop daily exercise habits unless we practice it regularly. It’s the same with positive self talk. Daily affirmations help internalize positive self talk. If your little one says, I love myself every day, they will start to believe it.
9. Remember ‘It's A Work In Progress’
Self love isn't developed in a day. It’s a constant work in progress. Some days, you won’t feel so great about yourself. But, that's okay too. The most important lesson for your little ones to learn is that they can change the way they feel about themselves.. As long as they keep working at it!
Happy Valentine's Day!