Parents share the dream of raising children who are healthy, compassionate, independent, and happy. In order for this dream to come true, children must feel safe, loved, and valued. And most importantly, kids must love and value themselves—not just for what they look like or achieve, but for the very essence of who they are.
Many aspects of modern society harm our children and cause them to become overly focused on superficialities. The media revere beauty, wealth, and fame—while wisdom, character, and compassion are often overlooked. Overfocusing on externals, overstimulation, overscheduling, and having too much too soon, are all unhealthy aspects of our society that can alienate children from their very core.
We’re understandably concerned about children who have a poor self-concept, struggle to succeed in school, are clumsy, or have poor social skills. And our concern is justified; our society has fairly narrow parameters regarding what is considered desirable and a child’s negative beliefs about himself can set a self-fulfilling prophecy in motion.
But children who are unusually attractive, bright, athletic, charming, or well-behaved can also be at risk if they become overly attached to an image that is based on other people’s reactions. Unable to be carefree and true to their own nature, they become overly anxious as they continually try to portray an image that pleases the people that are important to them. And when their efforts fall short, their fragile sense of self shatters like a fallen mirror.
The “A” student who falls apart when he does poorly on a single assignment, the perfect child who becomes distraught when mildly reprimanded, or the older child who won’t go to school because she doesn’t have the right clothes--all are revealing that they are overly dependent on their external image and the reactions of others.
Constant activities and overstimulation are also detrimental to a child’s well-being. In order to cope with the stress of our 24-7 society, sensitive children may begin denying their senses and deadening their feelings. But when children suppress their emotions in order to cope, they pay a steep price, becoming out of touch with their true selves, their true nature and wholeness.
Emotions lead us to our core self and are a built-in monitor that lets us know if all is well. Parents can help a child to stay in touch with his inner self by encouraging him to pay attention to his body and his feelings. If a child accepts and values his own feelings then he will also accept and value the feelings of others, generously giving and receiving love, as well as choosing activities and eventually careers that will bring about personal fulfillment.
It’s very important to start planting the seeds of inner value early. The negative impact of society’s narcissistic attitudes, the media, and overstimulation can negatively impact children as young as three or four years of age.
An older child or teen who is out of touch with his true self may be susceptible to the influence of peers, gangs and cults, as he continually aims to please whoever is currently shaping his identity. In contrast, a child who has a sense of his true inner value is resilient. He strives to achieve his goals but because he knows that he is more than what he does or how he appears, his mistakes and difficulties aren’t overwhelming; instead, they provide opportunities to learn and grow.
Ways to Nurture a Child’s Inner Value:Have time without TV, video games, or computer. (As a defense mechanism to the overstimulation of modern life and technology, sensitive children may cope by deadening their senses and denying their feelings.)
Be sure your child has unstructured alone time…to relax, play freely, and dream.
Teach and have your child practice relaxation skills such as progressive relaxation, focusing on the breath and visualization.
Participate in and appreciate the arts; listen to beautiful music, dance, sing, draw, or paint.
Practice slow sustained stretches and movement such as yoga or tai chi.
Spend time in nature and teach your child to have reverence for living things.
Encourage your child to tell you how he feels.
Involve your child in helping others.
Express gratitude and encourage your child to think of what he or she is grateful for.
Avoid bragging about and labeling your child. Don’t become overly attached to your child's accomplishments.
Give sincere praise, but avoid overpraising. (Constant, excessive praise can discourage a child from finding the value in what he does from inside himself, independent of external rewards.)