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The building blocks for letting my child blossom - self image

By: Elizabeth Oosthuizen Psychologist

Our children are born into our lives as special gifts. It is our task to guide and parent them into becoming those unique individuals they are intended to be. A seed for growth are received the day we meet them for the first time. Our task as parents is to nurture, water and give nutrients to this seed, so it will grow into a beautiful blossoming tree. While it is growing we must sometimes give extra minerals, or less water, or prune a bit - this is all part of parenting with the goal to let our child becoming the individual they are born to become.

What an overwhelming task this can be sometimes?! As parents we do realize that parenting our child is an extremely important task. We all hope that the way we parent and guide our children will assist them into developing emotional wellness and that they will have a true image about who they are. In this article I am therefore giving guidance and ideas on how to build your unique child's self-image and confidence:

Firstly and most importantly is for you as parent to accept your child unconditionally. All children present with characteristics and behaviours we love and appreciate about them, but also with some that we detest. Embracing all these flowers and thorns in their beings will make them feel loved and accepted. During the growing up years especially, we as parents must try and focus and give positive motivation towards those beautiful characteristics. The thorn-behaviours we must try and prune, but not prune it in such a way that the negative behaviour does not exist anymore. Sometimes these difficult behaviours will assist them in their interactions as adults.

Love and attention do not spoil babies or toddlers. The more warmth and acceptance, the better. Children should be allowed to say 'no' to situations where they can exercise choice. In this way, their autonomy is respected, and they do not feel rejected if they do not agree with you. Statements like "children should be seen and not heard' should be avoided. Children feel loved and wanted and secure when they experience unconditional positive regard. We must try and communicate basic acceptance of them as individuals even if we don't like certain behaviours.

Being themselves:
Children should be encouraged and praised for being who they are, for being self-reliant and acting in a natural way. Compliment and name the behaviours or actions you are proud of as a parent. We are sometimes so good at seeing all the things our children does 'wrong', make it your goal as a parent to find those behaviours and actions you child does present which are positive and compliment them immediately. At times ignoring the negative behaviours can also work very well during parenting. Research has shown that children present with those behaviours that seem to receive attention from important adults around them.

Children should not be overprotected and told 'no' or 'stop' frequently. Self-confidence is not built by making all decisions for children, being too strict, having overly high expectations, or teasing and belittling them. Strengths and achievements should be frequently pointed out to them, with pride.

Emotional Intelligence:
For our children to experience a truthful self-worth, it is important that we develop their emotional intelligence. The following are examples of emotional intelligent skills:
• Awareness of own and others feelings;
• Being able to express inner feelings;
• Sensitivity towards the thoughts and feelings of others;
• Ability to cope with difficult emotional situations in an age-appropriate way;
• To know that they are in control of their feelings and can choose how to respond to
   a given situation;
• Have the courage to take a risk, to be unique, to love themselves; and
• The ability to experience failures as a learning curve.

Children learn about expressing or suppressing feelings in the family. The way, we as parents, react to them when they experience intense emotions will determine whether or not they are comfortable with feelings in general. Here are some ideas how to develop your child's emotional intelligence:
• Know yourself as an individual. Respect the others at home as individuals.
   Celebrate each person's uniqueness. Talk about what each family member likes and dislikes,
   what they aim for, what are their goals, what are they afraid about, what are they proud of?
• Start talking about feelings at home. Teach your child feeling words and look for situations
   that elicit feelings and talk about it.
• Accept and acknowledge your child's feelings. Teach them that all feelings are acceptable
   but not all behaviour. Teach your child acceptable reactions to the feelings that they are
   experiencing. E.g. we are allowed to be angry, but not to hurt others, so we can rather
   jump to get angry out, or go to a safe place to let anger subside.
• Be honest about your own feelings, and be a good example of emotional control.
   Children look and learn from us.
• Teach your children to find joy in the little things.
• Encourage an attitude of caring at home and towards other. Empathy, respect and
   people skills are some of the gifts you can teach them for their life journey.

We as parents need to realize that our own emotional awareness and ability to cope with feelings will determine the success and happiness in family relationships.

I hope that above has given you as parents, some ideas on how to build your unique child self-image and confidence. In the next article we will look at and discuss what not to do when we are trying to build our child confidence.