In Good Company Blog

What Do We Teach Our Kids About How to Treat Themselves?

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As a mom of a toddler I spend a lot of time talking about the appropriate way to treat others. I try to teach (and model) kind, generous, and forgiving behavior and thoughts. Learning not to just get along but also develop empathy for others is a key milestone for kids my daughter’s age. Many preschool curriculum are nearly entirely focused on this very important concept.

Recently I’ve been thinking however about the efforts I’m making (if any) to teach my daughter how to treat herself with kindness, generosity, and forgiveness. After all, I find that much of the sadness I’ve witnessed in life is, in part, due to people being harder on themselves than they are on others.

I can’t really remember what institutional and peer messages I got about this as a kid (thinking about it a lot though), but as an adult I’m surrounded by encouragement to be tougher on myself. It’s easy for me to shrug off frat-boy “go hard or go home” platitudes. Yet, I get thrown off when this self-harshness is sandwiched in between other, more reasoned and compassionate conversation.

Two phrases posted by friends on Facebook recently keep swimming in my head:

“The hardest victory is over myself”

“Be gentle with others and stern with yourself”

Both give me knee jerk reactions.

Don’t battle yourself!

Be gentle with yourself, too!

Our culture focuses a lot on the “golden rule”. Treat others the way you would want to be treated, we say. Maybe we need to flip the saying around and start teaching our kids to treat themselves the way they would treat others. Treating others with respect and dignity is of utmost importance, but when it comes to parenting, do we focus on the treatment of others to the exclusion of how to treat ourselves?

I understand that not everyone ticks like I do. Admittedly, authority makes me squirm and lots of rigidity is totally demotivating for me. Nor am I a seeker. I’m sure there is a lot of this kind of stern self-motivation that I don’t understand. I understand that sometimes it really can garner pride and feelings of self-worth…still it’s not the lesson I want to impart to my little girl.

I want my daughter to be loving, forgiving, and generous towards herself as well as others. And I don’t believe that will compromise her ability to be ambitious or confident or radical or strong or whatever she wants to be. And, please don’t mistake this as a suggestion that we heap more empty praise on everything kids do. Kids are smarter than that and plus we all know that self-esteem comes from the inside, not out. Nor am suggesting that we deify ourselves more than our culture already encourages. This isn’t about self-branding or even more over-sharing because actually that’s about others too, in a cultivating followers kind of way. This is about how you treat yourself within the privacy of your own head and whether you choose share any of your carefully cultivated empathy with yourself.

For me, right now, this is also about the role of self-care in parenting. Have I made enough room for it or given it enough thought? No.

In addition to thinking about the messages attached to the stories we read and activities we do, I need to think about how well I do or don’t explicitly model this behavior. How do I talk about myself in front of my kids? How do I demonstrate the importance and value of self-care?

I’d like this to be a focus for me in 2013. Any suggestions of resources are welcome! Also I know I have lots of friends who are wonderful at this – I’ll be calling on you!



[Image: Flickr user  qthomasbower]

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