By Dr. Teandra Gordon, LMFT-S, Senior Director of School-Based Behavioral Health
“Am I enough? Do I matter?” These are the questions children ask when it comes to self-esteem. Is who I am enough to deserve love, success, life and joy? Believing “I am enough” is the foundation of life. A child’s answer to the question, “Am I enough?” is often shaped by parents and caregivers.
As parents, we have the opportunity to speak life, joy, love, and success into our children’s lives. Our words and actions communicate to our children whether they are smart, funny, talented, loveable and fabulous or bad, stupid, annoying, or lazy.
The words that we say to and about our children shape the view they have for themselves. We should be thoughtful, purposeful, and positive when talking to and about our kids. Children’s self-esteem is largely shaped by their caregivers’ understanding and expression of how special and significant they are. It is important that we use positive words to describe children.
Each human being is born with attributes that can be perceived as both positive and negative. As parents, we can choose to accentuate the positive or the negative and what we give attention to will expand.
One of the first activities I do with kids (and often adults) that I see in therapy is the “I Am” activity. I have the client write their name or draw a picture of themselves in the middle of a piece of paper and surround their name or picture with positive self-attributes. Some kids really struggle with this activity because they have only heard negative labels attached to their identity.
I push these clients to identify the positive. We then turn those self-attributes into “I Am” statements. I have the client read “I Am” before each positive self-attribute. I tell them to recite these statements day and night and emphasize that it’s really important for them to show their parents, teachers, family members and other students who they really are. I encourage them to make choices that line up with who they are, and I keep reminding them until they actually start to believe it.
A child’s thoughts, perceptions and words are extremely powerful. Let’s work to ensure that our children use the power of thought, perception and words in a way that empowers them to reach their potential.
Dr. Gordon is the author of “Purpose Filled Parenting.” Published in 2017, the book was written to show parents that great kids don’t just happen but must be fostered in an environment in which they can shine. Dr. Gordon is a licensed marriage and family therapist and serves as senior director of Legacy Community Health’s School-Based Behavioral Health program.