HOW TO RAISE KIDS WHO DON’T SUCK…THE LIFE OUT OF YOU
by Gabrielle Acord
Originally posted April 29, 2016
What do your children value? Have you ever caught yourself reflecting, “It seems like the more my children have, the less grateful they are …”? So much of today’s reinforcement is immediate and external. We are practically addicted to “friends” and “likes” and notifications from email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and messaging. We are exposed to an endless and constant barrage of external validation, which has little to do with who we are, but rather what we do, who we do it with, and how we look while we are doing it. Of course we start to believe that our value lies in these external things and then we value others in the same way. This reliance on the external does little, if anything, to build self-worth.
So what is self-worth, or self-love, or self-esteem? These can be easier to define when we look at what they are NOT. Much of the dysfunction and bad behavior we see in others and ourselves can find their roots in the lack of self-worth. Substance abuse, violence, promiscuity, self-harm, dishonesty, addictions, greed, laziness, ingratitude, financial instability, hatred, pettiness, obesity, arrogance, neediness, bullying, intolerance, cheating, infidelity, fear, lack of self-awareness, impatience, ignorance, self-righteousness, negativity, and simply an overall unpleasant personality are just a few of the fruits of low self-worth.
The fruits of the self-worth tree are clear in contrast: peace, compassion, self-care, integrity, will-power, generosity, hard work, gratitude, frugality, charity, not taking offense, health, abstinence, humility, self-reliance, kindness, honesty, loyalty, courage, responsibility, patience, knowledge, open-mindedness, positivity, and overall pleasantness.
When I consider how these traits are developed in myself and in my children, it is enlightening to realize how utterly important self-worth is, and how elusive and hard to come by it can be. Often, we try to solve each of the former problems one at a time, as if they were isolated and didn’t have a common root.
Treating substance abuse as its own individual issue is like picking the apple off the tree—eventually that fruit (or something like it) will grow back. That tree is still alive and well. And while it is possible to burn the tree to the ground and start over with a fresh, healthy tree, let’s take a look at how we can grow good, healthy self-worth from the start.
1. Fertile Soil: Studies show that kids who demonstrate the characteristics of high self-worth report most often a strong identification with family culture. They come from an environment where tradition, religion, language, and family history are valued and shared freely. They respect and understand the sacrifices and stories of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents and carry a strong internal identity. Also, their parents have often modeled behavior consistent with good self-worth. They are not generally busy serving their own children as much as they are busy serving others. They take care of themselves physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And their children follow their lead.
2. Deep Roots: The most fundamental part of self-worth is an inner knowledge of who you are and your inherent value. A tree’s roots only dig deep if what it needs is not readily available on the surface. You and your children cannot grow self-worth unless you go through hard things. I like to say to my kids, “Fail early and often.” If we rescue our children from natural consequences, if we provide everything they want with no requirements, and if we do for them what they can do for themselves, we rob them of deep roots, or an inner knowledge of what they are capable of. And if they are never tested, they may be able to get by with shallow roots. But eventually, the winds blow.
3. Nourishment: When a sapling is first planted, great care is taken to ensure that it gets sufficient water, sunshine, and support until it has the strength to stand on its own. It is hand-watered, supported, and shielded from the elements. Likewise, children need constant care, affection, and guidance in their early years. We carry them and hold their hands until they can walk, but then we gingerly step away and allow them to stumble, fall, and get up on their own. In order to dig deep, children may have to learn to get themselves up, dressed, and off to school on their own if mom has to leave early for work. They may need to learn to make themselves lunch and get their own Band-Aids. They might need to confront a bully or talk to their teachers about a grade. They may have to experience being cut from a team or going against the crowd. They will not always have rain, sunshine, or external reinforcement and will have to learn to draw on their own deep well of self-worth to make it through times of drought, or withstand the elements. Every time they recognize their own ability to solve problems and pick themselves up, those internal reserves get deeper until they know that no amount of storm or famine will shake them. And while sunshine—and external validation—that the world can provide are nice sometimes, they are not necessary.
4. Room to Grow: As children express themselves and spread their branches, sometimes we feel a protective need to hover. In our effort to protect from the elements, we also block the sun and constrict learning and growth. When our children enjoy success, we need to be careful not to absorb their sunshine. Anything that is more important to us will never fully be owned by our children. Payment and bribery for good grades and behavior can block the inherent reward of personal satisfaction and self-respect. We have to step back and allow ownership. When a child plays an instrument or sport because they love it, step back allow the growth. When they get a job to pay for their own necessities and sometimes to help out the family, allow them to feel needed. They may have skills, talents, and knowledge that we do not, and we can humbly allow them to teach us at times. Teach them the value of giving up something they want, like time, money, or popularity, for something of greater value. We maintain at all times the knowledge and vision of who they are and will become, especially when they make mistakes and forget who they are. We are on their side, but not in their way. If we raise them well, they will not always need us.
5. Purpose: A good, strong tree of self-worth gives back forever. Its trunk is solid and uncompromising. Its branches are spread wide and far and provide sweet fruit and shade. We are raising children to be adults who give back. A person with self-worth shifts focus from shaping and growing himself to nurturing and serving others. We no longer seek to bring attention to ourselves and desire only to shelter, support, and encourage others. When we are in the presence of someone who is filled up on the inside, we can feel the overflow of love and generosity in excess. There is such abundance that everything we give comes back ten-fold—and we are drawn to their strength like moths to light.
Having self-worth does not mean we won’t suffer loss or hardship. It does not mean we are perfect and don’t make mistakes. It just means we embrace the strengths and the weaknesses in ourselves and others. It means we actively learn from every bump and setback, and have the courage to take responsibility for ourselves. And it means our fruit will be good.
Tagged With: Parenting, relationship, relationship skills, skill building.