Becoming a parent is one of the most profound and emotionally enriching experience. As parents, we often reflect over how well our children's needs can be met; we want to give them the best of everything. What often goes unnoticed is the fact that children not only take in how you respond to their needs but also how you respond to your own needs.
If you are someone who tends to put others first at the cost of sacrificing your own needs or if you have problem setting boundaries with people at work or friends, your child is likely to grow up putting herself second and struggle with low self-esteem. This is because children are extremely intuitive and emotionally porous. They can detect how you feel, even if you don't tell them. The way you handle life constantly sends unconscious signs that your kids pick. That's why, your own happiness, sense of wellbeing and self-worth are detrimental in the overall wellbeing of your child. Here's what you can do to give your child the best gift she/he can have: a happy, healthy, and content YOU.
The brain of a young child is still in the process of getting wired. All the non-verbal messages they receive from you and the emotions they absorb from you have a direct impact on the way their neural pathways get mapped; as in, you are basically programming them for life and paving the way for how they think and perceive themselves and the world around them.
A common mistake parents make is to hide their negative emotions behind closed doors. It's okay for you to feel what you feel in the presence of your child unless it's an overwhelming emotion caused by an extreme situation. Your child knows when you're sad or angry at someone. When you own it, you also give your child permission to own her own feelings without being ashamed of it. Children are so intuitive that when they know you are sad and you give a fake smile, it confuses them. Psychologists call this "incongruence." Congruence is a state of feeling, thinking, and saying the same thing. Therapists working with depressed individuals almost always find that one of the parents was emotionally numb, unexpressive or incongruent.
8. Say what you mean.
This reiterates the previous point. If someone asks you how you are feeling, it's okay to be honest about it, especially when your child is around. You can pick your words wisely, but acknowledging the truth gives a clear signal to your child that she can say what she feels without having to lie or hide it. This goes not just for feelings, but for your opinions and disagreements as well. Imagine a parents' meet or a social get-together where parents are talking about the newest fad. When your child sees you share your opinion without disrespecting others' views, you model a behavior that will make her a successful negotiator throughout her life.
7. Develop your self-esteem.
Are you confident enough to allow another woman own her beauty without being threatened by it? Is it easy or difficult for you to appreciate someone who's done a good job? These actions convey subtle messages to your child about your self-worth. When you're confident enough to compliment another person or feel good in the presence of competent people, your child learns a very important lesson. Everyone is different; no one's talent is a threat to your own; there is ample attention and appreciation to go around.
6. Do not neglect your needs.
Mothers tend to do this more than dads; this could be due to the existing social structures within families and society. When you come back home after an exhausting day, do you take a few minutes to sit, unwind and take a moment for yourself? When you go to a family event, do you always take care of others and ensure everyone is fed and comfortable and forget that you are there to have fun? Children feel nourished when you feel nourished. By ensuring your needs are met, you are unconsciously planting the belief that they have the right for self-care. This might seem frivolous, but the majority of people who turn up for therapy due to mid-life crisis struggle with the simplest of self-care. They simply believe others deserve their love more than they themselves do.
5. Learn to say NO.
One of the greatest things you can give your child is how to set healthy boundaries. When someone makes an unreasonable demand, do you struggle to say NO? Do you feel guilty when you cannot meet someone's request? Knowing what you can and cannot give, in terms of time, energy, effort, and attention, is the first step to setting healthy boundaries. Once you are clear about this, all you need to do is practice a powerful, simple mantra. It goes like this: "I'd love to, but I can't at the moment." That's it. No reasons required; no justification needed. This frees you up from endless demands, guilt-trips, exhausting days, boring chores, and pent-up resentment. Again, you convey a very strong message to your child: It's okay to be who you are; you don't need to overcompensate. Your needs are important. You're kind and generous and saying NO doesn't make you a bad person.
4. Do not apologize unnecessarily.
Again, women tend to do this more often than men. This doesn't mean you should be rude or insensitive. Psychologists have traced back the behavior of apologizing for things that aren't your fault to a sign of low self-esteem. We've all been in situations when we've said sorry for things we needn't have to, but out of feeling unnecessary guilt. Fall back on the mantra given above to say no. This tip comes with a disclaimer: Owning up to your mistakes and apologizing for it models an equally healthy behavior for your child.
Yes, you read that right. Do you take breaks from endless chores to enjoy a hot cup of tea? Do you treat yourself a good lunch or a new dress from months of savings? Do you let your spouse know that you will be out with your friends and that dinner needs to be taken care by them? These options might not be available for everyone, especially single parents. Or those on a stringent budget. It really doesn't matter what you treat yourself to. What matters is you allow yourself a little happiness amidst the drudgery of life, and what matters more is that your affirm your child that her personal satisfaction, even when they grow up to have their own children.
2. Be happy.
Simple, eh? If you are going through a difficult time, reach out and ask for help. If you are feeling exhausted, take time to rest and nourish yourself. If you miss doing things that make you happy, find little ways to bring those back in your life. Again, the key here is to take small steps. Take an hour out in a week to go for your favorite class; ask your spouse to make breakfast on days you decide to go hit the gym; find a babysitter to make time for romantic dinner with your spouse. Happy parent—happy child.
1. Do not tolerate any form of disrespect.
This one is huge. How you respond to disrespect can program your child to defend against abuse and ill-treatment or make them susceptible to abusive relationships. Clinical psychologists have found, time and again, that children who grow up watching their parent being abused are likely to repeat the same pattern with their future partner. Therapists often have to do extensive work to clear up old patterns picked from parents.
This is because such a child could grow up:
- believing being abused or disrespected is normal and acceptable.
- feeling familiar with chaos and negativity in abusive homes.
- with poor self-esteem and believe he doesn't deserve better.
- feeling guilty for your unhappiness, thereby punishing herself throughout her life.
- with no skills for self-protection or healthy boundaries.
Any form of disrespect, within home or outside, needs to be checked. Whether that be abusive in nature or just an inappropriate comment from a nneighborabout your body, the more skills you learn to handle such comments and disrespectful behavior, the better will be your child's self-worth and coping mechanisms.
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