Children are exposed to toxic environments and negative emotions like never before. Often, children find themselves dealing with situations that they have not been prepared for. They struggle with negative emotions and when they do something good, they don’t take credit for it. Children are increasingly shy about taking on challenges, fearing failure and scorn. Counter-intuitively, withdrawn children may be better at backing themselves than more outgoing children, whose extroversion may mask hidden trauma. That makes it hard for parents to know when their children are in trouble. In a crisis time for America, it’s important for parents to arm their children with the tools for self-esteem.
Let them Process Negative Emotions
Although, as parents, it’s natural to want our children to not experience any negative emotions, our instincts here are wrong. It’s okay to feel bad; children need to be taught that. Shame around negative feelings makes it harder for children to deal with them, and to seek help when necessary. If children sense that there is a rush to make them move past their negative emotions, and they don’t feel as if they can move on as quickly as adults would like, they may start to hide how they feel, because they don’t want to disappoint you. Help them process the negative emotions and understand that everybody experiences them at some time in their lives.
Place Compassion at the Center
At the Happy Mango baby boutique, it’s always moving to see parents’ love for their children and the joy they take in doing something for them. Wouldn’t it be nice if that emotion could, at some level, be extended to others, and carry on in the heat of our children throughout their lives? Couldn’t we train children to feel that love and see themselves with the love their parents have for them?
Dr. Helen Weng found that compassion can be trained just like a muscle, with just 30 minutes a day of compassion meditation training. After just two weeks of compassion meditation training, she found that people start to feel compassion for people who are suffering and that their distress when seeing a person suffering is lowered. Reducing distress is important because it increases a person’s ability to respond compassionately to help people who are suffering. This is great for children because it makes them more resilient to other people’s suffering, without making them dead to their pain. Your child can make a positive contribution to the world by being less distressed. Compassion is also important because it teaches children to step outside of their own struggles and see what they are going through in terms of other people’s suffering. They are then less likely to become unhappy. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of “selfish” motive for teaching your child to be more compassionate, because it leads to wider community benefits. In fact, Dr. Weng’s research is backed up by earlier work, which showed that compassion meditators are less likely to be angry, and vindictive, and they are more likely to be understanding, when something unfair has happened. Think about it: when you do something bad, you see that as being because of circumstances, but when someone else does something bad, you see that, if they are not close to you, as being because of their character. We are harsher to other people than we are to ourselves. Being compassionate puts us in a position to understand and to be more resilient in the face of injustice.
All in all, compassion toward others makes children more compassionate toward themselves, and that is the whole goal of trying to build self-esteem: to have children who are kind to themselves and to others.