Being the youngest of six, there was always someone around to keep me entertained. I can remember family trips to the beach, Sunday dinners at home, and playing outside for hours with friends. All of this made for what seemed to be a picture-perfect life. I was an honor roll student, teachers loved me, I stayed out of trouble, and my future looked bright. There was just this one big thing that no one could understand. I didn’t like how I looked.
Growing up, I started noticing that I was taller and heavier than the other children. By the time I was in 3rd grade, I knew something was terribly wrong. As I write this, I’m holding back tears as the image of my school picture in the gray dress I used to love pops into my head. There I was, barely smiling, as the realization that I was different was most evident then.
As the years dragged on, my mom tried to reassure me, but every time we went to the doctor, they reminded her that I was overweight, then later obese; things we could look in the mirror and see. Never mind all the other fine qualities I had. That one thing, that I was too big, dominated the conversation at every appointment.
While I was well-liked at school, there were always those few students who made sure I knew how bad I looked. Over time, the constant reminders started to weigh on me. My self-talk became dominated by trying to figure out what was wrong with me. WHY COULDN’T I JUST LOOK LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!?!
My experience was with eating too much. I know that some children battle with not eating enough and other areas of self-doubt. Regardless of the situation, a lack of confidence and esteem can be extremely traumatic and result in horrible outcomes for children.
In my case, the internal war resulted in severe weight swings from the constant dieting. By the time I was in 8th grade, I ballooned to 300 lbs. and then in college I hit my highest weight at 427 lbs. I was only 22 years old.
Throughout this ordeal, my parents didn’t know how to help or what to do. While our family as a whole wasn’t in the ideal weight range, no one had the weight struggles that I did, and no one packed on the pounds like me.
What I wish my parents knew at the time was how to help me get what I needed the most, self-confidence.
They constantly told me how beautiful I was and how proud they were of me, but in my mind, I thought, “You’re just saying that because you love me.”
Had they known to ask me, “What do you love most about yourself? Why?” or, “What’s the best thing about being you?” then maybe they could have helped me appreciate the special gifts and qualities I had.
As parents, we can’t control what other children say to our kids, but we can prepare them by making sure they know their worth.
Tips for Raising Confident Kids
Here are some easy tips to promote healthy conversation with your child to make sure low or no self-confidence does not impact them and their view of themselves:
1. While reciting affirmations is great, it’s not enough. Ask children questions about how they truly feel about themselves.
2. Be careful not to volunteer responses for your child BEFORE you actually hear what they have to say. Listen to how they view themselves.
3. Be sure to ask open-ended questions or add “why” to the end of yes/no questions. (i.e. Do you like your hair? Why?)
4. Try to take the focus off of physical appearance and focus on special talents or personality traits when speaking with your child.
5. If you discover negative self-talk, be sure to uncover the source. For example, is someone picking on them? Are they comparing themselves to what they see on social media? Why do they feel that way about themselves?
6. If your child has healthy esteem (and don’t automatically assume they do), then continue to talk about what they love about themselves and why. Build them up so no one tears them down.
By incorporating these simple tips, you can open doors into the mind of your child. It is well documented that as they get older, children value their peers’ opinions more than parents, so it’s important to build their confidence to prepare them for life’s challenges. Failure to do so can lead to adults with esteem issues that can really hinder their success.
Hopefully, this article will raise awareness about this issue and help at least one parent avoid potentially damaging negative self-talk in their child. Together, we can raise confident children and make this world a better place.
About the Author
PeTika Tave is an educator with over 18 years of experience in both primary and secondary schools. Due to her personal experience of battling low self-esteem as a child and being in the classroom, she has made it her mission to help make sure all children are confident in who they are, just the way they are. She is an advocate for raising confident kids with books that are meant to inspire, motivate, and encourage while building strong families and healthy relationships. She teaches the message that “we are beautiful and brilliant, inside and out, just the way we are,” to promote positive self-talk and healthy self-esteem. She can be found online at bayabooks.com and on various social platforms at linktr.ee/authorpetika. There you can follow her and learn more about her community involvement and advocacy for raising confident kids.