Okay, let me first say that I have a Masters in Counseling and am currently pursuing my state licensure as well as my post-graduate play therapy certification. So my take on parenthood is slightly more...how shall I say...OBSESSIVE than some. You know how people with parents who are therapists are usually a little different (all the analysis can be overwhelming at times for a kid or teen)? I'm trying not to be that gal. And yet, I obviously buy into the theories I work with and they have a huge impact on how I plan to raise my daughter.
One thing I think plays a huge role in raising healthy kids, is how we encourage them to define themselves. We do it all the time without much thought--"you're so pretty!" or "you are so awesome at basketball/dance/soccer" or whatever. At a very young age, kids pick up on these definitions of self, and it can create in them a sense that "self" is defined externally rather than internally. Or in other words, it enforces the idea that we are what we do/what we look like/how well we perform.
The biggest problem with that kind of enforcement, is that kids then start to seek outside sources of self-worth. Which may seem okay for a minute if your kid is the drop-dead gorgeous soccer star, but what would happen if that kid had an accident or illness that changed his looks or athletic ability? Most likely the child who identifies himself externally is going to then feel like he has lost everything. He is no longer beautiful or athletic. He is no longer himself. Or even in a less dramatic situation, if that kid is constantly seeking external affirmation of his self-worth, what happens when he gets a bad report card or becomes the victim of negative school gossip? Again, this child will feel like he is no longer valued as highly, therefore he is not worth as much.
If we instead teach our kids to find their self-worth inside and not look for it from others, we give them the gift of self-assurance. These kids know who they are and are proud of it. If someone doesn't like this kid's artwork, he shrugs and says, "well, I like it and that's really what matters". It's a slight difference in approach that can make a huge and lasting difference in self-perception from childhood to adulthood.
The thing is, enforcing the external is so easy to accidentally do. My husband and I noticed that we were really saying a lot to Everleigh (my eleven month old daughter), "you're so pretty!" and "you're beautiful" and so on. Of course, we believe this to be true :), but we had to put ourselves in check and change our language to be more reflective of who she is, rather than what she looks like. Now, we try to say more things like, "you're so brave" or "you're so smart", or "you're proud of yourself for climbing that, aren't you?"
Hopefully by making small changes like this, we can help raise a girl who puts less stock in what everyone thinks of her and more stock in what she thinks of herself.