How many times have you told your ebullient child that she's too loud or too active? How often have you told your contemplative, cautious child not to be such a scaredy-cat or so shy?
In subtle ways, you are giving your child, when he's expressing his unique temperament, the message that he's not good enough. He will get the same messages at school, from the media, and from the world at large. By the time he is an adult, he will have learned how not to follow the beat of his own drum and how not to be himself. He will have learned exactly how to act in order to get the approval of others.
If you think that's not much of a problem for a child, wait till she grows up and marries someone she thinks she should marry, works in a job she hates because it's expected of her, gets into debt buying a house or car that makes her seem more successful than she really is, or is on a perpetual diet and hates her body because women are supposed to be rail thin.
You can stop this negative conditioning. As a parent, you already instinctively know that your child is good enough. Your child was born good enough. Here are five ways to reinforce that positive message.
- Be there for him. Let your child have his true feelings - sadness or fear, for example. Show him with your support, reassurance, and presence that it's okay to have emotions, and that you'llstay withhim through all those feelings, without judging.
- Teach her not to personalize rejection. If someone tells her she's ugly or too brainy, for example, remind her that someone else's words aren't the truth. The truth is that she's fine -just the way she is.
- Teach him not to worry what other people think. If he's afraid to take chorus at school for fear of being teased, or cuts class with his friends to be part of the "cool" crowd, help him understand that following others' opinions won't help him be happy.
- Encourage her individuality. If your child wants to wear a pink tutu to a restaurant and it embarrasses you, consider the message you might be giving her about being an individual and expressing herself. Unless it's an act that could harm your child, try to allow her to be and do what she needs in order to fully explore who she is.
- Show him he is loved - unconditionally. Remind your child dozens of times a day - in gestures, words, and acts - that you love him just the way he is. A child who learns that he really is good enough will grow into a confident, healthy, fulfilled adult.
JAN DENISE is a syndicated newspaper columnist, an empowerment guru, and author of the new book, Innately Good: Dispelling the Myth that You're Not (Health Communications, 2009). Find out more about her and her teachings at www.innatelygood.com.