As parents and caregivers, we love our children so much it hurts. I am known to look at my daughter on our video monitor and tear up. I can’t tell you how many times I have said to my husband, “She is so cute it’s literally painful.” With all the love we have for our kids, it’s incredibly jarring when they don’t always share that same love for themselves.
Molly Barker is the founder of Girls on the Run International and has coined a term called “the girl box”, which is an internal space that many girls slip into around 3rd-4th grade. Girls specifically begin to stop listening to their internal voice as loudly and begin to be highly influenced by the voices and images of others. While research points to this being more prevalent in girls, all children experience this shift when peers become a big influence on their lives. While socialization and friendships are crucial to healthy development, so is self love!
There are simple routines and activities we can weave into the daily rituals of family life that can strengthen self esteem and self love for our kids. Start when they’re little, and don’t let up! These are essential themes to keep embedding in daily life so they become commonplace and typical, healthy behavior for children.
Self-talk can be one of the biggest struggles for children when times get tough. When an academic activity becomes a challenge or when your child feels left out of a group, often inner dialogue isn’t so kind. Frontloading that self-talk from the beginning of the day can help get the self love started in the morning. Quick, recited affirmations while looking in the mirror or on the drive to school can give that boost. Having your child state phrases like, “I am brave!” “I can try new things!” “I am important!” can be such a simple yet powerful way to foster self love.
It’s easy to slip into saying, “Good job!” or “Nice work,” to your child, and sometimes, that’s better than nothing. Offering really specific praise to your child can help them to see the unique characteristics that you see in them. When coloring with your child, you could say, “Wow, I see how you’re taking such careful time with each detail. You’re so artistic!” If your child misses catching a ball outside, try saying, “Almost caught it! I see that you had your glove ready. Let’s keep trying!”
Sometimes it feels unnatural or awkward to embrace self love. Reading books that normalize this helps to empower children to see that this is a healthy way to view themselves. There are so many wonderful books that help offer affirming words and phrases to give children some new language. Some books I recommend include This Could Be You by Cindy Williams Schrauben (releases April 1st, 2022), Being Me From A to Z by Lauren Kukla, All the Ways to be Smart by Devina Bell, and I Will Be Fierce! By Bea Birdsong.
While self love can be a hard concept to embrace with children, caregivers can make it a point to emphasize this skill. We love our kids so much that it hurts. Let’s help them love themselves, too.
Allie Szczecinski is a wife, mom, special educator, children’s book author, and social emotional learning coach. She mentors new teachers, creates visual, hands-on resources for students and lives for coffee. With a master’s degree and over 12 years of professional experience, she is a go-to resource for educators everywhere! Read her insights on social emotional learning and behavior on her blog and follow her on instagram for inspiration.