Welcome to the October 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Instilling a Healthy Self-Image

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared confessions, wisdom, and goals for helping children love who they are. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


“Can you do something so her upper lip will cover more of her gums when she smiles?” my mom asked the orthodontist, not realizing how this question would stick with me for decades. As I sit for a professional photographer my stepdad laughed while calling, “Don’t blink!,” making me even more nervous than I already was in the brightly lit studio.

My parents were good people who loved me and were proud of me, yet they unconsciously did things that chipped away at my self-esteem. Like most parents of their era and many parents even today, I think they didn’t realize how great their impact was on how I felt about myself. Instead of feeling comfortable in my own skin, I often looked outside myself for acceptance, relying on others’ praise to feel worthy, loveable, and even normal. Conversely, when others didn’t compliment me or made critical remarks, I withered and doubted myself because I gave their viewpoints so much weight. And I worked diligently to be flawless (at least by the standards my family valued) so that even when I believed myself flawed inside, the outside world would see only a smart, talented, composed, popular, and “in” girl.

My parents are not to blame for my experience, nor will I be fully responsible for how my daughter experiences her life. I’ve done a great deal of personal work to reclaim my self-worth and fall back in love with who I am. From this journey I’ve learned lessons that I want to incorporate into how I raise my daughter. With good fortune she’ll emerge from her formative years loving herself boldly, fully, and eternally exactly as she is.

Ways to nurture our child’s self-esteem

How we feel about ourselves and what we believe influences the choices we make. The quality and trajectory of our lives then evolves from these choices. By helping our children develop self-esteem we are thus bolstering their chances of living meaningful and fulfilling lives. Given all of this, I think that learning how to nurture and maintain our children’s natural sense of self-worth is a valuable study and practice for parents today.

  • Model healthy self-esteem. When you have kids you eventually come to realize how much they soak up from you. Usually this dawns on you when they repeat something you cringe to hear them say (sometimes laughing inwardly at the same time). Self-esteem is no different. If you have self-esteem, you show your child that you regard yourself with love and respect. If you voice your own displeasure with who you are or are hyper-critical with yourself, that’s the model your child will follow.
  • Watch our language. Although modeling self-esteem is a great habit, what we say or don’t say will have an impact on how our children feel about themselves. Thus it’s important to take time to acknowledge your child, their choices, and their accomplishments. Hold back your negative judgments and give critical feedback in ways that are helpful not hurtful. Be a source of love and appreciation rather than a judge or critic.
  • Be a mirror for more than our child’s physical self. With girls, parents (and others) often comment on looks or niceness. With boys the defaults tend to be on physical abilities and prowess. While acknowledging these gifts is fine, it can lead to children whose esteem is tied only to these qualities rather than having self-love for myriad reasons (and for no reason at all). Look for a wide variety of traits and achievements that you can name and extol.

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”

~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
  • Limit exposure to mainstream culture. Many messages our children receive from outside our families serve only to limit their potential, judge them as not enough, or stoke their fears. Because our children are treated as consumers rather than people, the messages our culture sends are best considered harmful until proven otherwise. Remove your TVs, limit exposure to adult “news,” and use computers and other electronic devices sparingly. Especially when done during a child’s early years, these actions help create a self-esteem greenhouse so that when a child moves into the wider world s/he will be a healthier, more self-assured person who can better withstand the cultural winds swirling about her/him.
  • Teach the difference between opinion and fact. It amazes me that most people talk as if what they’re saying is “the truth” (It amazes me that I too do this more often than I’d prefer.). One of the barriers to self-esteem is putting too much stock in others’ views and when these views are spoken as fact versus opinion, it’s even easier for our children to believe they’ve missed the mark. I attempt to speak mindfully, labeling my opinions, preferences, and beliefs, as such and even occasionally adding other clarifiers (“some people believe,” or “I think this is why such and such happens, yet I don’t really know for sure,” etc.). I also explain other’s statements that might have come across as fact when they were actually merely beliefs (A recent example was when an elderly relative told my daughter that drawing on a chair cushion was “naughty.” Grr!)
  • Don’t compare. Our culture is rife with competition and this energy seeps into our lives without us even realizing it. Self-esteem is fragile when it’s built on being better than others in one way or another because there’s a chance that someone else will be better/taller/richer/smarter/faster/et cetera and then our “okay-ness” falters. Don’t compare your children to others — “You’re the fastest runner.” “Your bother’s room is cleaner than yours.” “She was a lot more shy than you were.” Instead, let them stand alone — “You’re such a fast runner.” “Your room is pretty clean today.” “You seemed very bold at story time.”

“Don’t you dare, for one more second, surround yourself with people who are not aware of the greatness that you are.”

~Jo Blackwell-Preston
  • Speak only words that are kind, true, and necessary. While other points I’ve made already touch on this, a useful mantra for me has been “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” I learned this practice through Simplicity Parenting though it’s familiar to many from their spiritual faiths. Sometimes silence is a better tool for maintaining esteem when we are feeling bitter, doubting, harsh, or generally unsupportive. Though our children are strong and resilient, I prefer not to have to repair to my parent-child relationship because I spoke or acted hastily. Before speaking, consider if what you have to contribute will improve upon silence when it comes to nurturing your child’s self-esteem.
  • Ask rather than tell. When my mom asked about hiding my gums, it was a reflection on her esteem not mine since this wasn’t an issue for me at all. It’s easy to project our fears, insecurities, and preoccupations onto our children without realizing we’re doing so. Instead, ask them about what they see as their strengths and what they feel embarrassed or awkward about. This way we can support them in overcoming their own concerns without inadvertently adding our worries to their lives.
  • Have an esteem-building ritual. Even with the best laid plans, our children’s esteem will likely take some knocks over the years. I’ve found that rituals and special traditions can be touchstones to fall back on during times of challenge or change. Shortly after my daughter was born I began a nightly ritual to avow the fundamental truths about her based on some of the fears that I’ve found to be almost universal among adults. Each night, just before sleeping, I caress her head or back, saying to her: “You are loveable. You are worthy. You are whole. You are perfect exactly as you are.” I think of this as a powerful way to send her off into sleep.

“Love yourself first and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”

~Lucille Ball

May all our children flourish like this boy.
Photo from Joseph Choi.

Self-esteem does not protect our child from experiencing disappointments and challenges in life. Self-esteem is neither a cure-all nor a preventative for self-sabotage. But a child with a solid sense of self-esteem who grows into adulthood with her or his self-worth largely intact will weather the downs of life much more easily than peers who don’t really love themselves.  Loving our children exactly as they are and expressing that love in visible ways helps them to know their inherent worthiness. Refraining from doing or saying things that make them doubt their wholeness is another key to supporting them in maintaining this self-worth. While we have many important roles to play as parents, being nurturers, guardians, and champions of our sons and daughters’ self-esteem is one of the most crucial to fulfill.

“All love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.”

~Rachel Naomi Remen



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon October 9 with all the carnival links.)

  • Why I Walk Around Naked — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she embraces her own body so that her daughter might embrace hers.
  • What I Am Is Not Who I Am — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses her views on the importance of modeling WHO she is for her daughter and not WHAT she sees in the mirror.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Verbs vs. Adjectives — Alisha at Cinnamon & Sassafras tries hard to compliment what her son does, not who he is.
  • The Naked Family — Sam at Love Parenting talks about how nudity and bodily functions are approached in her home.
  • How She’ll See Herself — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis discusses some of the challenges of raising a daughter in our culture and how she’s hoping to overcome them.
  • Self Esteem and all it’s pretty analogies — Musings from Laura at Pug in the Kitchen on what she learned about self-esteem in her own life and how it applies to her parenting.
  • Beautiful — Tree at Mom Grooves writes about giving her daughter the wisdom to appreciate her body and how trying to be a role model taught Tree how to appreciate her own.
  • Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Nurturing A Healthy Body Image — Christy at Eco Journey in the Burbs is changing perceptions about her body so that she may model living life with a positive, healthy body image for her three young daughters.
  • Some{BODY} to LoveKate Wicker has faced her own inner demons when it comes to a poor body image and even a clinical eating disorder, and now she wants to help her daughters to be strong in a world that constantly puts girls at risk for losing their true selves. This is Kate’s love letter to her daughters reminding them to not only accept their bodies but to accept themselves as well in every changing season of life.
  • They Make Creams For That, You Know — Destany at They Are All of Me writes about celebrating her natural beauty traits, especially the ones she passed onto her children.
  • New Shoes for Mama — Kellie of Our Mindful Life, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is getting some new shoes, even though she is all grown up…
  • Raising boys with bodily integrity — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants her boys to understand their own bodily autonomy — so they’ll respect their own and others’.
  • Sowing seeds of self-love in our children — After struggling to love herself despite growing up in a loving family, Shonnie at Heart-Led Parenting has suggestions for parents who truly want to nurture their children’s self-esteem.
  • Subtle Ways to Build a Healthy Self-Image — Emily at S.A.H.M i AM discusses the little things she and her husband do every day to help their daughter cultivate a healthy self-image.
  • On Barbie and Baby Bikinis: The Sexualization of Young Girls — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger finds it difficult to keep out the influx of messages aimed at her young daughters that being sexy is important.
  • Undistorted — Focusing on the beauty and goodness that her children hold, Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children watches them grow, loved and undistorted.
  • Off The Hook — Arpita at Up, Down and Natural sheds light on the journey of infertility, and how the inability to get pregnant and stay pregnant takes a toll on self image…only if you let it. And that sometimes, it feels fantastic to just let yourself off the hook.
  • Going Beyond Being An Example — Becky at Old New Legacy discusses three suggestions on instilling healthy body image: positivity, family dinners, and productivity.
  • Raising a Confident Kid — aNonymous at Radical Ramblings describes the ways she’s trying to raise a confident daughter and to instil a healthy attitude to appearance and self-image.
  • Instilling a Healthy Self Image — Laura at This Mama’s Madness hopes to promote a healthy self-image in her kids by treating herself and others with respect, honesty, and grace.
  • Stories of our Uniqueness — Casey at Sesame Seed Designs looks for a connection to the past and celebrates the stories our bodies can tell about the present.
  • Helping My Boy Build a Healthy Body Image — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school offers readers a collection of tips and activities that she uses in her journey to helping her 3-year-old son shape a healthy body image.
  • Eat with Joy and Thankfulness: A Letter to my Daughters about Food — Megan at The Boho Mama writes a letter to her daughters about body image and healthy attitudes towards food.
  • Helping Our Children Have Healthy Body Images — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares information about body image, and her now-adult daughter tells how she kept a healthy body image through years of ballet and competitive figure skating.
  • Namaste — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment shares how at barely 6 years old, her daughter has begun to say, “I’m not beautiful.” And while it’s hard to listen to, she also sees it as a sign her daughter is building her self-image in a grassroots kind of way.
  • 3 Activities to Help Instill a Healthy Self-Image in Your Child — Explore the changing ideals of beauty, create positive affirmations, and design a self-image awareness collage. Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares these 3 ideas + a pretty affirmation graphic you can print and slip in your child’s lunchbox.
  • Beautiful, Inside and Out — It took a case of adult-onset acne for Kat of MomeeeZen to find out her parenting efforts have resulted in a daughter that is truly beautiful, inside and out.
  • Mirroring Positive Self Image for Toddlers — Shannon at GrowingSlower reflects on encouraging positive self image in even the youngest members of the family.
  • How I hope to instill a healthy body image in my two girls — Raising daughters with healthy body image in today’s society is no small task, but Xela at The Happy Hippie Homemaker shares how choosing our words carefully and being an example can help our children learn to love their bodies.
  • Self Image has to Come from WithinMomma Jorje shares all of the little things she does to encourage healthy attitudes in her children, but realizes she can’t give them their self images.
  • Protecting the Gift — JW from True Confessions of a Real Mommy wants you to stop thinking you need to boost your child up: they think they are wonderful all on their own.
  • Learning to Love Myself, for my Daughter — Michelle at Ramblings of Mitzy addresses her own poor self-image.
  • Nurturing An Innate Sense of Self — Marisa at Deliberate Parenting shares her efforts to preserve the confidence and healthy sense of self they were born with.
  • Don’t You Love Me, Mommy?: Instilling Self-Esteem in Young Children After New Siblings Arrive — Jade at Seeing Through Jade Glass But Dimly hopes that her daughter will learn to value herself as an individual rather than just Momma’s baby
  • Exercising is FUN — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work talks about modeling for her children that exercising is FUN and good for body and soul.
  • Poor Little Chicken — Kenna at A Million Tiny Things gets her feathers ruffled over her daughter’s clothing anxiety.
  • Loving the skin she’s in — Mama Pie at Downside Up and Outside In struggles with her little berry’s choice not to celebrate herself and her heritage.
  • Perfect the Way I Am — Erika at Cinco de Mommy struggles — along with her seven-year-old daughter — at telling herself she’s perfect just the way she is.