One of the most helpful things ever shared with me is the idea that we spend as much time managing perceptions as we do dealing with reality. That rings true in almost every avenue of life and perhaps none more so than with our kids, especially as it relates to their self-worth and self-image.
Some of our kids have wounds that run deep and often our instincts are to either feel sorry for them or to get frustrated when they “don’t act their age.” It’s easy to forget that chronology and development are two different things and it’s easy to forget that our kids don’t need sympathy. What they need is empathy.
Sympathy is the act of feeling sorry for someone, which doesn’t really help them unless it’s a stepping stone toward what they need. And what our kids need is empathy because it’s a choice we make to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s us caring enough to try to see things from their perspective. Put another way, sympathy puts them across the table from us, empathy offers them a seat next to us.
Yes, our kids have things in their past that kids shouldn’t have to deal with. It’s our responsibility to make sure that they’re not victims of the present, and to help them any way we can.
In terms of managing what can usually be a pretty negative self-image, we have to remember that we can’t parent our kids where we think they should be, we have to parent them where they are. This is key and can be hard if you’ve succeeded at everything you ever attempted because many of our kids don’t come to us with memories of success. They usually arrive with a pretty negative narrative.
We have to remember that words have power. The bible tells us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” This proverb is a double-edged sword because it reminds us that our words can both hurt and heal.
The good news is that we know we can replace every negative thought with a positive word. If one of our kids is struggling with their math and says, “I am stupid” we have to immediately tell them that they are smart and remind them of a time we struggled with something and how we overcame the challenge.
We have to change their narrative. We have to shift the focus from their self-perception to the reality of who they are because we can’t help them heal if we don’t.
We have to tell them that they matter to us, and they are important to the creator of the universe, when they say that they are unloved. We have to remind them of their successes when they call themselves failures. We have to tell them that everybody makes mistakes when they mess up and call themselves bad.
We have to help our kids see themselves the way we see them and the way God sees them. They are precious in his sight and they need to know that they are. They need to rest safe in the knowledge that they are children of God.
Every day brings new challenges and some days it feels like we made progress while others feel like we lost ground. Stay strong. God believes in you.
While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.
– Maya Angelou