It first starts with how you treat yourself, mama.
I usually try to do something productive during my son’s long morning nap, but sometimes, if it’s been a rough night, I am just too tired. Last week I was having one of those days and decided it was the perfect time to watch Finding Dory. I love children’s movies and was way too excited when I saw that this was available on Netflix.
I absolutely loved the movie, but one line has really stuck in my mind for some reason: “Don’t be such a Dory, Dory.” The main character says this to herself when she is frustrated by her inability to remember something.
Maybe it was just my sleep deprivation, but this line made me so sad and really got me thinking about the importance of cultivating confidence and self-love.
Here are three things I’m trying to do to help my son develop a positive self-image:
Model positive self-talk
I see my son watching me constantly, and know that he is taking in everything around him. What an awesome and terrifying responsibility to be someone’s role model for how to be in the world.
With this in mind, I’ve been trying to be intentional with how I talk about myself. I admit this feels a bit silly sometimes. For example, I might say to him, “I’m proud of myself for running this morning when I felt really tired. I feel so strong now.”
Negative self-talk is so prevalent in our society, and I want to show him that it’s okay—even great—to feel proud of himself and to be confident.
Along similar lines, I try to mention when I’ve failed at something, or made a mistake, and state that it’s okay. For example, “Whoops, I left too late for story hour and now we’re late. That’s okay, I’m sure they’ll still be happy to see us. We’ll just leave earlier next time.” I personally have a huge fear of failure, which has definitely held me back from trying new things at times.
I want to do what I can to show my son that mistakes are a part of life and the important thing to do is to learn from them.
I also absolutely love a music company called Growing Sound. Their goal is to spread positive self-talk in children through song. I loved using their songs in the classroom when I taught, and I love playing them and singing them for my son. (It’s definitely worth it to buy their CDs, but you can also stream for free all of their music online, which is pretty amazing.)
They have a song called I Can Do It, and I actually heard one of the girls in my class singing it to herself when she was struggling with something one time—it was pretty incredible!
Praise effort to build a growth mindset
We talked a lot about growth mindset in my Montessori training, and we also used the concepts in the school where I taught. I can't do this justice without making this a ten page post, but the basic idea is that it is important to praise effort rather than results.
This helps instill in children the belief that they can improve and the understanding that making mistakes is part of that improvement.
I have found this to be more difficult with my own son than it was in the classroom—I want to tell him he is wonderful and amazing all of the time! But I do try to focus on acknowledging his effort.
I tell him I see him working hard at learning to crawl and that he should be proud of himself. I am obviously proud of him every day for ridiculously simple things, but I don’t want him to get the idea that he needs to do things to make me proud.
Avoid name shaming
A child’s name is a key part of his identity and should be protected to avoid having negative associations with his own name. To protect his name, you would avoid using it in a negative way or when correcting behavior. For example, I would try to say, “We walk in the grocery store,” instead of, “Stop running, James!” Honestly, this hasn’t come up yet, as my son is much too young to misbehave. I do think it is important, though, and plan to try my best to avoid it as he grows.
I don’t know how much of a difference any of this makes at this point, but I do know that I am forming my parenting habits and language now, and that it will be easier to start these practices from the beginning than to change habits later on.
I want to do whatever I can to keep my son smiling when he sees his reflection in the mirror.