In the morning we hug our daughters and watch them get swallowed up by the mass of kids on the schoolyard. I’m sure many of us wonder if we have really prepared them for the “mean girls” and cliques that are also out there.
Parents can foster the growth of strong self-esteem to handle the stress that can happen with trying to fit in and also to stay out of the path of bullying. On the heels of our recent Dove Unstoppable Facebook chat, here are my suggestions for arming your girls with skills to be themselves and stand tall out there on the schoolyard:
Research shows that what children believe about themselves determines their behaviour. These beliefs come from the people who interact with them throughout their childhood — but mostly from their primary caregivers. The growth of positive internal beliefs happen when parents use kind, empathetic, and attuned messages for their child.
When you see your child doing something positive, mention that (without judgment). “Hey, I saw you help your brother without being asked.” … “I see you concentrating on that tough math problem.” … “You got really frustrated and then solved your problem. Look what you can do!”
A question I suggest using often to gauge whether you are growing positive or negative beliefs in your daughters is, “How does she feel about herself as a result of spending time with me?”
It is also important to know what kinds of interaction can inadvertently cause the growth of a negative inner voice. These are: criticism, negative judgment, labeling, name-calling, blaming, shaming, humiliating, de-moralizing, ordering and lecturing.
It is the difference between this (positive) “Oops. I saw your lunch by the backdoor on my way to work. What can you do next time to avoid this problem?” and this (negative) “You forgot your lunch again… you just can’t keep your head on straight! I hope you went hungry all day.”
This positive inner voice will help girls manage when others say things that hurt. The hurt might go in, but a strong positive “mental tape” will help it not sting as much.
Keep comments focused on how your child can solve her own problems rather than making her feel bad for her mistakes. This grows the rational part of the brain! Here is an example, (solving a problem) “It looks like your sister is really mad at you right now. What do you think you both need to say to each other to help fix this?” and (attacking) “Stop it! You’re being rude to your sister. I’m taking your phone away.”
Problem solving also helps people feel less afraid of making a mistake. We can model accepting mistakes by saying things like, “Oh no! I just did that wrong. Hmmm… I guess I’d better fix my mistake.”
This problem-solving growth helps your daughter to look for solutions rather than wallowing in a struggle or challenging time.
Girls can get swayed to following a clique’s decision to give up something they love or spend time and money on things that really are not important to your family. Support your daughter as she learns what makes her feel really good about herself. Remember to not get involved in too many activities, which can make keeping a focus on something hard. Help your daughter discover what she is good at naturally and wants to spend time developing.
This will arm your daughter with the skill to stick to her guns when others try to sway her away from what she loves, or get her to do something she doesn’t want to.
Teaching a child to “use her words” is mostly done when a parent models how to do this successfully. Each time we explain that we don’t like what is happening, and need to talk to someone about that, our children watch and learn. “Using your words,” means inviting people to consider a solution by talking about what isn’t working. It also means not shouting but rather calming down first so we can make good decisions. Show your children how to talk about the tough stuff with lots of empathy and patience for the other person’s point of view.
We also teach our children it is safe to speak up by listening when they talk. When our children believe their parents won’t freak out or punish them when they open up, that child is naturally protected from seeking help from dangerous resources.
The skill of speaking out will really help your daughter stand her ground when others might be trying to push her.
Many girls are driven by the motivation to fit in and not feel different. If our children grow up hearing that different is good — and normal, they may be less concerned about changing who they are to conform to the group. I often say things like, “Oh, I love talking to myself when I walk outside. I’m so weird!”
Perfectionism can really paralyze people. Girls can stop trying when they believe, “Why bother, I’m not good enough.” Good is good enough. Perfectionism is not a healthy goal to strive for — it can make us compulsive or give up. I actually have taken the word “perfect” right out of my vocabulary.
Encourage your daughter to try her best — and that is what counts. Things are not perfect and we can stop when we feel we’ve done a super job. Actually, I love the story submitted by Beth Hodges (one of the Dove Unstoppable Moms for Unstoppable Girls Contest winners). She turned her struggle with not feeling good enough to do sports into inspiration for her own children.
“Perfect is the enemy of good.” –Voltaire
Feeling good about trying something for the fun of it or accomplishing a goal we set out to do really improves self-esteem. This is part of the internal feelings girls can have to make them feel strong when things get rough.
All of the concepts above help to grow your child’s inner strength, but they also help your child grow into a likable person! People who are friendly and strong attract the same in others. Arming your own child with a positive inner core also arms her with strong friends.
If you would like more resources to help young girls and other moms become unstoppable, I invite you to look through this great resource guide that Dove has created.
Six out of ten girls avoid activities because they don't like how they look.
Now you can inspire a girl in your life, even when you're not there so she doesn't quit doing the things she loves. Visit Dove.ca to create a mirror with a personal message that will encourage her to be unstoppable every day.
What will your mirror say?
I read the report published by the University of Pittsburgh regarding a study about “harsh verbal discipline,” and then I read K.J. Dell’Antonia’s (editor for The New York Times Motherlode) lament about not buying into the researcher’s comments—that this study deems us all “bad parents” because it is impossible to not yell. I hear you K.J., we’ve all been yelled at, and there's likely a high percentage of us who yell at our children from time to time. We are not all doomed to a life of despair.
I think the key message in this study is that repeated, verbal assault is the same as repeated, physical assault. It’s a matter of clarifying what yelling or shouting means versus harsh verbal discipline. The big difference is that yelling or shouting could just be a volume thing. This is much less harmful. When verbal discipline affects the core of a person’s being, that is where the harm lies.
If your child spills coffee on your lap and you yell, “OW! Ahhhh!” very loudly, you have not attacked your child’s intentions or character. Chances are really good that your child didn’t spill the coffee on purpose. If the shout comes out like this, “YOU IDIOT! What were you thinking? I can’t believe you just did this to me!” a much different feeling gets stirred within your child.
This second way attacks the child and can form negative core beliefs in his mind even if it is said calmly. Name-calling is usually hurtful, but the more hurtful part is actually this, “What were you thinking? I can’t believe you just did this to me.” Words like this go into the brain and can settle in the areas that form our beliefs about ourselves. The child who hears this might come to believe, “I’m dumb” or “I’m a bad person.” I believe this is the harm the study is referring to.
The authors mentioned that no matter how much positive effort parents pour into their children, the negative effects of a verbal lashing are not erased. Attacks on a person’s character grow into and foster negative core beliefs, which are not corrected by more attention. A child who believes “I’m bad” will continue believing that despite a nice vacation or fun game of Battleship. Having fun helps improve a person’s mood temporarily, but it doesn’t change the way we think about ourselves. When a parent can empathize with how the child feels as a result of the harsh words, making steps to talk about that specific comment, and how to correct similar behaviour in the future, healing of that negative internal message can happen.
Parents often don’t realize that, although being present at a soccer game can help grow positive core beliefs, it usually doesn’t correct deeply ingrained negative ones. For example, if a child is continually spoken to like this, “Let me do it. You’re not doing it right. Ugh,” the child might develop a negative core belief like “I’m not capable” which can influence behaviour by causing the child to give up easily or turn to others to make decisions. If a parent then drives that child to soccer with smiles, the belief of “I’m not capable” has not been undone. Perhaps “I am important” is grown, but “I’m not capable” isn’t diminished because the child wasn’t given messages to counter that specific belief.
Negative core beliefs are like earworms—they become our internal messages and can seriously affect our behaviour and mood throughout our lives. Unfortunately, as a psychotherapist, I see how long it can take to identify and shift negative core beliefs. Ones like “I’m stupid” or “Why bother? I’m not good enough” can really hammer in the nails of self-doubt and low self-esteem, making use prone to bad decisions.
Realistically, I understand that likely all parents periodically shout loudly at their children. Please do all you can to avoid this, but if you are hungry and late for your doctor’s appointment, I get how hard it is to stay in the rational, clever part of our mind that tricks kids into cooperating.
Occasionally yelling loudly doesn’t make you a “bad” parent. What is “bad” is when parents continually insult their children, leaving a vapor trail of strong, negative beliefs. Loud volume is much less harmful than the stab of a verbal spear. You can discover and remove the spear, but often a scar remains.
To those who say, “If you are never are hard on your kids, they will be wimps,” I have a simple response: The world will do a good job of giving our kids their thick skin. Parents need to be the ones thinning it out; not making it thicker.
To be mindful of growing positive rather than negative core beliefs in your kids, consider this question: What does my child believe about himself as a result of spending time with me?
I post free parenting resources on my Facebook page -- feel free to leave questions or comments there or at the bottom of this post.
Photo- © Andrea Nair, 2013
Pictures with Santa have started popping up on social media, including some showing children in obvious distress. I admit it—I laugh at those—but I feel badly because I know I shouldn’t be laughing.
The thing is that Santa Trauma is a real phenomenon. There are three scenarios that cause the greatest distress where Santa is concerned. The first is that some children get so affected by their visit to Santa that they get nightmares or develop aversions like men with beards or glasses. Some don’t want to read books about Santa or even go in a mall. Although we may giggle at their cute little upset faces, we really should respect the big feelings that are terrifying them.
The second aspect to Santa Trauma is that some parents scare their kids by using Santa to seriously threaten their children into being good. I also see this happening with the “Elf on the Shelf.” Although these tactics might “work;” scaring children into obeying might have a temporary effect, but it doesn’t grow a child’s willingness to co-operate. When parents scare their children to behave well, they grow their defenses; when they guide them to make good decisions, they grow their rational mind.
And the third scenario, which often has the deepest and long-lasting effect, is where parents do such a good job of convincing their children that Santa is real, their trust can really be shattered when they find out otherwise.
Here are my recommendations for not making Santa a source of fear:
Give your child permission to skip the Santa photo if he or she is feeling scared. Please do not make your child sit on Santa’s lap if there is any distress. This isn’t fun for you, Santa, your child, or all the parents and children watching you.
Make the bedroom a "No Spy" zone. Some children have nightmares and sleeplessness when they think Santa or his elves are spying on them while they sleep. Children who have talked with me about this felt that eyes were staring them while they were sleeping, which felt very spooky to them.
Watch how you answer specific questions about Santa. Some teens and adults tell me that their parents so eloquently deceived them about Santa, they were truly devastated when they found out Santa was a story character. This devastation is less about the Santa fable and more about feeling so completely tricked by their parents.
When a child asks, “Mom, no joking around… Is Santa real?” do not look her in the eyes and say, “Yes.” I remember one adult who said, “My mom was straight faced—I really, really believed her. After I found out she was lying, I couldn’t feel confident anything she said was true. She really had me—this put a huge strain on our relationship.” This adult said this with tears gently streaming down her face.
Do not use Santa or “Elf on the Shelf” to threaten your child. Threats do not help the parent-child relationship; they hurt it. If you want some suggestions for positive discipline, I invite you over to my Facebook page where I continually post free parenting help.
Keep Santa fun by introducing him into your child’s life in a light-hearted way. As a result of the personal stories I heard in my psychotherapy office, I decided to call Santa a “story character” with my kids. However you decide to have Santa in your family’s life, just make sure there are no serious deception or threats associated with this jolly guy.
-Thank you to Karen K.B., Jodi M., Jennifer S, and Tammy B. for sharing their Santa photos with us. They all reported that although their children had a rough time in the picture, and some slight negative effects, everyone is doing fine now.