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I wanted to start today’s episode off with a conversation that I had with my little girl. This was a while ago. But I’d heard once (I don’t remember from where) not to tell your kids, “You’re such a good girl (or boy).” As I understood the reasoning behind it, it was because they personalize it, and then they feel “bad” if they aren’t “behaving”, right?
I understood that, and I tried for a few months to be more specific and say things like “That was really good listening.” Or “Great job cleaning up your toys.” But, I wasn’t sold; I was just trying it, and I was a bit on the fence.
And then I had a really rough week. I snapped at my kids. I didn’t spend enough time with them. All of the things I wanted to do, I felt like I was falling short on.
That evening, I went to tuck my daughter in and she gave me a huge hug. She said,
You are a good mom.
And I totally lost it.
My heart really needed to hear those words. My daughter gave me this precious gift in thinking that I was doing a good job as her mother.
So, after that, I started telling her “you are such a good girl” again, and I’ve maintained that philosophy since.
The best kind of love is not conditional.
I think where the problem comes in is when we tell them you are good if . . . or you are good when . . . because remember, worth is not conditional, it just is.
And everyone needs to hear sometimes that they are a good mom or dad or friend or person! As much as I shout about internal validation from the rooftops, we need connection, too. We need to feel like someone believes in us and in our potential.
As a mom, I feel like that is one of the opportunities I am most grateful for, that I have the chance to instill in my kids a sense, not only that I love who they are, but to help them know and love who they are, too.
So, that’s what we are going to talk about today, and we have four takeaways or tips that you can use to help the kids that you interact with develop that love for, and confidence in, who they are.
#1: Spend quality time together. (Connection is the antidote to shame.)
Disclaimer! First things first, we want to clear the air and qualify that you can be the best parent in the world, do everything “right”, and still have children who struggle with identity, personal agency, or just being different from who you expect them to be.
We also don’t believe in looking back when it comes to our kids and saying, “if only…” or, the reverse, constantly trying to anticipate and plan for every inevitability.
We each have a unique identity with strengths and weaknesses and we make our own choices – that includes our children.
But we have a couple of favorite studies that indicate how we feel about parenting, that we wanted to share with you (and I’ve shared these on here before – a lot, haha!):
- First, Robert Epstein found in a meta-analysis that the #1 parenting strategy to get the outcomes we are looking for in our kids, is: love and affection.
- Second, Vern Bengtson from the University of Southern California, found in a 55-year longitudinal study that relational warmth is the single biggest predictor of faith transmission across generations.
Essentially, it’s all about the relationship. And, aside from that, we know from Brene Brown that the antidote to shame is connection, right? So, if we want to raise kids who are confident in who they are and considerate of others, we have to connect with them.
#2: Teach children to express their emotions in a healthy way.
One of the most, if not the most, powerful way to help children feel safe in expressing who they are and who they want to be is to teach them how to deal with big feelings. Honestly, sometimes we are still learning this one as adults, too. But it is crucial in helping them feel like they are good enough, in dealing with sibling rivalry, in helping our kids know they can come to us when they encounter a problem…
So here are 3 easy-to-remember steps, are you ready?
#1: Teach kids how to name their feelings. There are tons of books out there for this, there are feeling charts, and kids even learn from each other, because now our two-year-old walks around saying “I’m mad!” and stomping his feet whenever his sister does, hahaha! So, help them name them!
#2: Love is unconditional, not earned or predicated upon behavior. All of the time, but especially when disciplining, make sure your kids know you love them no matter what they or you are feeling, or how they act (which I know is the clincher that sometimes gets people up in arms). But there is so much power and emotional safety behind the words: “I love you even when you make a mistake.”
And this actually works in your favor, too, because when you as a parent act out (a.k.a. – me – 😅), your kids understand! My daughter told me once “You love me even when you’re mad at me.” And I said, “That’s right. I love you always.” And not only did it help calm me and her down, but I need her to know my love is unconditional.
That doesn’t mean I condone inappropriate actions. While every feeling is welcome, if an action that results from that feeling is not a healthy one, step #3 is to help your kids replace negative behaviors with healthy ones. Maybe it’s the words they use to talk about it, maybe it’s screaming into a pillow, or going for a run, maybe it’s taking some time alone… Kids can’t stop behaviors that you don’t like, unless you help them find another outlet for what they are feeling.
And the older they get, the more freedom you can give them, too. Don’t tell them how to act – give them options, talk about possible consequences, ask questions, and let them decide.
This whole process reinforces the idea that they are enough, and that they have agency, which are two huge pillars of a confident identity.
#3: Encourage self-directed learning.
As a parent of a child who knows and loves who they are, your job is to guide. Remember, failure is really just practice in disguise. It’s okay for your kids to change gears, and it’s okay if they want to keep pursuing something they might have to work at. They are in the driver’s seat with self-directed learning!
We can coach, we can mentor, we can guide, but we want to foster the idea that we believe in them, that we can do hard things, and that in order to do hard things, it’s okay to be messy.
All of these concepts lead up to your child feeling empowered and confident in who they are, and help us re-define failure as it currently stands, replacing toxic perfectionism with a foundation of grace.
#4: Enforce meaningful boundaries consistently.
There are a couple of key words here, the first being, meaningful. Most parents learn early on to pick and choose our battles, and this is essentially the same thing. But I’ll take it a step further and share one of my favorite tips for you.
When our first got old enough to start comprehending “rules”, I listened to all of the parenting podcasts, read all the books (which I know isn’t always the best re-course, but I’m pretty good at filtering through what works for our family and what doesn’t), and before I sat down to make our rules, I came out with one core philosophy – It doesn’t matter what strategy you employ (what you teach, or how you teach it) – parenting is about who you are (what you model) and who you are becoming.
And I thought about that. Who do I want to be, and who do I want my kids to be? What core values will we hold together as a family? I wanted to use boundaries as an opportunity to teach our kids these principles, and have an answer for “why?” a given rule was enforced.
So, on our little “Checkmark Chart”, we have “Be Kind & Gentle With Your Things” -which includes treating others and our toys nicely- “Good Manners” -which might mean listening to Mom & Dad when we are trying to communicate, and saying thank you and please- “Use Your Words” -expressing what you need or feel with words rather than acting out or whining- “Picking Up Toys” -because we want to teach our kids personal responsibility… etc…
And your list might be wildly different, which is great! I would just say, maybe sit down and think about the why behind it all before you start enforcing boundaries.
When boundaries mean something, they are easier to enforce.
The second key word in “Enforce meaningful boundaries consistently” is consistently. If all of this staying at home has proved one thing to me lately, it’s that kids thrive on routine. You don’t have to be mindlessly rigid, and there are still times when I prefer watching a movie together rather than putting the kids down at night.
But, if we want to convey that our boundaries matter and our why matters and that our values are a part of our personal and family identity, then we need to be consistent in modeling that for our kids. And hopefully they will see the value in it, too – not because we tell them, but through experience.
One-Liner: One of the greatest gifts that you can give to your kids is to know and love who you are, so that they can do the same.
Journal Prompt: Make a list of family values together and talk about meaningful, enforceable boundaries from there. Try to model these yourself, too!
❤ Jenny and Joe