Low self-esteem is something that I understand pretty well. I went through a very awkward phase in my early teens and it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I embraced my self-worth and became the confident woman I am today.
I have to admit that when I gave birth to my two boys, I hoped that I wouldn’t have to watch them struggle through self-esteem issues the way I once had.
But of course, every child has issues with confidence at some point. And because I’m all too familiar with the negative effects that low self-esteem can have on a child, it’s been my mission to help my boys realize their value in the world.
If there is one lesson I have learned that has proven to be true again and again, it’s that modelling a love of self is the best way to ensure that my boys develop the same trait as they grow up.
For the most part, that’s a very simple thing to do. I don’t, as a rule, speak negatively about myself. I carry myself with self-assurance. And I show the other people in my life the same respect I am accustomed to receiving, because I want my boys to know that everyone has value.
But what I’ve found most helpful for helping my boys build confidence, especially in the case of my oldest son, is sharing stories of some of my own previous struggles, and the eventual positive results. I
remember one night a few years ago when doing just that helped my son conquer some social anxiety. As I was putting six-year-old Zackary to bed, he looked at me and asked, “Mom, why don’t I have a best friend?”
My heart broke a little as I looked at my son’s plaintive expression. Zackary had always been incredibly friendly and outgoing, so much so that shy children were sometimes overwhelmed by his presence. But it was true that while he did have friends at school, he didn’t have that special “best friend” relationship that most of his peers did.
The truth was that I had also gone through years of not having a best friend, though I had a few friends to spend time with.
And so I told my son, “I understand how you feel, Zackary. There were times I didn’t have a best friend either. And I know that right now that makes you feel sad. But the only reason you don’t have a best friend is because your most perfect best friend is somebody you probably haven’t met yet.”
And then I told my son about going through years at school without a best friend. And other years of having a best friend, but then losing that friend as our interests changed or we were put in different classes.
“But now,” I told my son, “I have two amazing best friends. And even though we don’t live in the same place and we don’t see each other very often, I know they’ll be my friends forever. One day you’ll find a best friend like that too.”
“I can’t wait to find a best friend like yours, Mom,” Zackary told me softly as he settled into bed. And the very next year, my compassionate oldest son not only grew his extensive circle of friends even further, he also found the best friend he had been wanting.
At their young age, I know the two might not be friends forever. But I also know that Zackary has realized not having a best friend doesn’t mean he’s not a good person. It just means that his best friend is someone waiting in his future.
It’s not always easy inspiring children with confidence, especially when a child is facing a challenge that undermines his feelings of worth.
Whether it’s a common home issue like wetting the bed, a struggle with a school subject or a feeling of social inadequacy, children need a supportive response from parents when life gets difficult.
Demonstrating my own belief in my self-worth and reacting to my children’s accomplishments with the same belief in their value has been a tried and true method for me.
That sometimes means sharing stories of times I was unhappy and felt unimportant. But I know that when I do that, my boys look at me, see the confident woman I have become and realize that there is sunshine after the storm. And when it comes to self-esteem, that just might be the most important lesson I can provide.