As a young child, Charis enjoyed the praises of her mother's friends when they saw her doing her homework. "What an obedient and hardworking child," they would comment while observing their own children running around and playing.
Somehow, those praises motivated Charis to continue living up to her reputation of being obedient and hardworking. She began to set high expectations of herself, and would always want to do her best.
But when she went to secondary school and her peers began to outdo her in exams, her sense of self-worth started to plummet.
How can we support our children’s self-worth without getting them to lower their standards totally?
What is self-worth?
With mental health issues coming to the fore, there is an urgent need to help children build a strong sense of self-worth, and to understand they are more than their achievements.
Although Charis struggled in the beginning with peer and societal pressure, she realised in her later teen years that she “didn't need to care so much about other people or the labels that they put on me, but rather to just focus on myself, on my own, knowing my own abilities, my own strength, my own beliefs and to feel secure in that.”
She credits this self-worth as a by-product of the way her parents raised her. What did her parents do right?
She can always be herself with us and have nothing to prove.
Create a safe space
Charis’ father, Wen Wei, has managed to build a safe space for her, largely by being a safe person. However, this doesn’t mean there were no mistakes made.
Growing up, Charis was particularly sensitive to the word “stupid” being used on her. Somebody had done that once to her and Wen Wei made a mental note never to do the same. However, one day when Wen Wei was helping Charis through her homework, he got frustrated at Charis and snapped in exasperation, “Don't tell me you're really so stupid.”
That sent Charis over the edge, and triggered a crying fit.
Immediately after, Wen Wei had to send his other daughter to a swimming class but during the drive to the pool, he was so worried that Charis would do something foolish.
That incident made Wen Wei realise the importance of being Charis’ safe place. He said, “She may feel like she has something to prove to other people, but she can always be herself with us and have nothing to prove.”
Charis laughed upon hearing her father recount that incident. Having happened when Charis was still in primary school, she does not remember it. But it’s clear it had a lasting impact on Wen Wei.
Offer physical hugs and comfort
During Charis’ frequent meltdowns, Wen Wei and his wife tried different methods every week to comfort her. But nothing seemed to work.
One time, during a meltdown, Wen Wei decided to just hug her. Miraculously, it worked. Coupled with honest and open talks with her parents, Charis gradually managed to find her feet and step out of the shadows of self-doubt.
Today, you might overhear Charis telling her friends, “Whatever tough situation you are in, hugs can solve everything.”
Listen well and help them feel understood
Now 22, Charis is moving into a new phase of life – from the safety of school to the world of work. Even as she sends out job applications, she often worries about the outcomes. However, she’s learnt to self-soothe by telling herself, “It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get an offer.”
She attributes her growth in security to her father’s willingness to sit and have long conversations with her. “He has always given me that space to talk. He is a really good listener, and he has never imposed his decision or opinion on me.”
“Sometimes I get annoyed,” Charis joked, “because I think it would be easier if he decides and then I follow, but I also appreciate that he helps lead me to a decision that I make, instead of telling me what he thinks first.”
Genuinely enjoy them. Express that pleasure in them. Then delight in them, any time, every time.
Genuinely enjoy your children
Whenever Wen Wei’s children would disturb him when he was in the middle of something, he would try to stop and shift his attention to them.
“My children are really the joy of my life. I try to communicate that with them as often as I can. Genuinely enjoy them. Express that pleasure in them. Then delight in them, any time, every time.”
We all want the best for our children. But in the midst of pushing them to their maximum potential, we should not forget to hold them close. And to tell them, “I love you, whatever you do, however you do.”
© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Many struggle in their transition from school to adulthood. John has created a framework that allow young adults to succeed and overcome challenges in their early career at liveyoungandwell.com. He is a Registered Social Worker who works in the social services.
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