Let’s teach our children to love who they are

We hear the word self-love more commonly now. It’s amongst the buzz words of the decade along with the likes of healing, veganism and meditation. But I don’t say this with disdain; I am all about the conscious life myself. But when real philosophy becomes a commodity, the value undoubtedly decreases. Short cuts; unqualified advice; increased supply and demand; all contribute to watered down messages and practices.  

If parents really wish to build their children’s self-worth, esteem and love, it’s important to understand the significance of their own role, not only in their child’s life, but also the role they play for themselves. We’ve got lead by example and live the life we preach. If we want our children to be kind, we must show kindness, if we want our children to be sufficiently independent, we need to take out time to help them learn to do things. Praising a child whilst focusing on their strengths will help them to feel good and boost their self-esteem. Self-esteem is important because it heavily influences people’s choices, decisions and motivates them to take care of themselves and explore their full potential.

As a black mother, there are certain additional challenges I face, which makes the self-love journey rocky at times. There will come a time in life where I will need to prepare the girls for the bias they may one day face. I’ll have to put aside my natural instinct to protect their innocence and have a true and honest conversation with them to explain exactly why they may be targeted. This is one of the most painful parts of being responsible for another human being. Your role includes giving them the best chance in life, and it would be naive of me to throw them out to the hounds and expect them not to be bitten. As hard as it will be, it has to be done.

With the girls, I believe representation is everything. I want them to understand that the world is their oyster and they can reach up as far as they wish to go. We are in different times; we are fortunate to have the ability to get our hands on pretty much any and everything at the click of a button. The girls have majority black dolls, at least half of the children’s TV they watch contains diverse characters, and we wear African attire daily. Imagery is powerful so we also display African art throughout our home so the girls really recognise their roots.

As a child, I only remember owning dolls that didn’t look like me. This wasn’t something that was a problem because that’s all that was available – I literally didn’t know what I didn’t know. I’m sitting here thinking, did the lack of social representation in my youth give me a complex about my own identity – maybe… possibly… At some points I definitely remember wondering why I’d been chosen to be black but fortunately I managed to hang on to a strong sense of identity due to my family. My household was (and still is) culturally rich, which had a positive impact on my self-worth. I am one of six siblings from a Ghanaian household. I understand my language, I eat the food from my culture, mix with my 33 first cousins (yes I typed 33!) and I wear the colourful Ghanaian Kente cloth with pride. I appreciate having so many ties to my heritage and I’m actively seeking to repeat history with my princesses.

Research shows that encouraging cultural pride and preparing children for bias improves levels of self-esteem, positive ethnic identity and improved wellbeing, especially when these messages are echoed by society.  As parent’s we have to face the scary fact that we can’t control everything our children are exposed to or how they receive certain information, but what we can do is equip them to deal with the big bad world whilst celebrating their value to give them a sense of belonging.

According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), ethnic minority patients receive worse mental healthcare than other patients. This has been attributed to doctor’s uncertainty when diagnosing emotional problems and depression in ethnic minority patients. This is why societal education at all levels is so important. Unfortunately persistent discrimination has been linked to decreased levels of self-esteem among black people. As we know, mental health is a real issue and due to the many challenges faced by black people, we are disproportionately represented in the mental health system.  

Prevention is better than cure.  There are so many things parents can do to boost children’s self-esteem, some I’ve already mentioned. My number one recommendation is repeating affirmations. I’ve borrowed 20 from Cyndi Barber:

  1. I love you. (You can never tell them this enough.)
  2. I appreciate you.
  3. I believe in you.
  4. I love how you care about others.
  5. I’m proud of you and of who you are.
  6. My life is better with you in it.
  7. You are enough just as you are.
  8. You are fun to have around.
  9. You are excellent at ________.
  10. You are smart.
  11. You are beautiful/handsome.
  12. You are courageous.
  13. You are wonderfully unique.
  14. You are talented.
  15. You are a good friend.
  16. You have really great ideas.
  17. You are a gift to our family.
  18. You are a great person. It’s a privilege to know you.
  19. You make a positive difference wherever you go.
  20. You have what it takes to be successful in life.

Additionally we all need to think about the way we consciously or unconsciously treat others. Having an empathetic approach when engaging with others will make a huge difference.  

Here is just the best video of my daughter relishing playing the role of Annie.

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