The Importance Of Teaching Children Self-Love

By telling the powerful journey of her client Janet, psychotherapist and meditation teacher Dorothy Ratusny emphasizes the damaging effects of lacking self-love in children all through adulthood. "When we teach our children that it is okay to expect much of them", says Dorothy, "and if we are demanding to the point of making them accountable to our happiness as parents, then we raise children who only know their value through the worth that others place on them." This essay is also addressed to parents and non-parents seeking to break the cycle of norms they live by.
Dorothy Ratusny is a psychotherapist specialized in Cognitive Therapy and conscious spirituality.
self-love for children
Dorothy Ratusny is a psychotherapist specialized in Cognitive Therapy and conscious spirituality.

What happens when a child is raised receiving the messages that they are in some way not good enough, not deserving, and possibly unlovable?

Most of us, at one time or another, have experienced teasing, hurtful comments, even ridicule from siblings or peers or perhaps a caregiver.

What happens when a child grows up in this environment and believes that they have no other choice, but to simply accept the damaging, derogatory, and even abusive words that are spoken from their loved ones?

I’m going to tell you about a client’s journey from suffering to empowerment and how you can help those you love the most believe in themselves, live confidently and self-assured — knowing that they have much to offer the world.

Would you rather hear Dorothy Ratusny talk about this powerful and eye-opening journey? Listen to the audio version:

  1. Teach Your Children to Love and Value Themselves 15:01

The Longterm Damaging Effects Of Children’s Self-Loathing

So, I begin with two questions for you:

When is it okay to accept hurtful comments and words from our loved ones?

And could there be any justifiable reason for someone to look the other way, to ignore the hurtful and disparaging comments and the lack of consideration and kindness that we all deserve?

For much of Janet’s life, she could remember how her siblings were ungrateful, rude, hurtful, and, at times, aggressively mean and vengeful. Janet did her best to stay out of the conflict and pettiness that her other siblings engaged in, but the truth was she had received unkind and hurtful words from both of her parents throughout much of her childhood.

Janet’s father teased her about her weight, often saying, “You could be pretty, except you are so big.”  And her mother blatantly favored one of her sisters who got the skinny gene, saying to Janet, “You can’t possibly wear the same pretty clothes as your sister. Your body is too big, and you won’t look good.”

It may not surprise you to learn that Janet struggled with a weight issue for all of her adult life. As a child, she weighed a normal and healthy weight — at least until the teasing and hurtful comparisons began…

My client Janet happens to be model-tall, she stands over 6 feet, and her height dictates the density and structure of her bones. This was no doubt overlooked, unaccounted for in the numbers that were revealed on the scale.

We can cultivate an eating disorder and body image issues in mostly anyone if we begin, at an early age, to tease and mock them about how unnatural or unattractive they look.

The truth is that Janet could easily have been a model, for her height and features are stunning. Years of self-loathing and ridicule by those that could have instead loved her for her unique physical qualities and beauty were strong contributors to a life in which she often felt tormented, rather than one that may have evoked confidence and self-worth.

We need to keep reminding ourselves and teaching our children that beauty is far from what we see at the surface.

You might also want to read about six ways that can stop the negative body image epidemic within our society.

The Guilty Pressure Of Satisfying Demands

Before Janet and I had begun working together, it would be unheard for her to speak her mind to her boss or her siblings, especially when unrealistic demands were made of her.

Now Janet would frequently reassert her boundaries saying “No” wherever it is appropriate, but admitting that she is still struggling with doing far more than what is often reasonable or expected of her at work.

And as in the case with her devotion to her younger sister Karen who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer: While her other siblings would visit once weekly, Janet took it upon herself to give up some of the important and healthy practices of her own life in order to dote on her sister When Janet put her life on hold to be at the hospital each day with her sister, it was admittedly out of guilt more than love.

By Janet’s description, Karen was ungrateful. According to her, Karen never once thanked her for going immediately to the hospital each day after work, for staying all evening, every evening, and sometimes sleeping overnight in the hospital room, just so that Karen didn’t have to be alone.

When we teach our children that it is okay to expect much of them, and if we are demanding to the point of making them accountable to our happiness as parents, then we raise children who only know their value through the worth that others place on them.

Janet had a difficult time to validate her worth based on her feelings of self-adequacy and competence. She continues to overachieve at work, doing far more than what was expected of her, because it was one certain way that she could feel positive affect and to be approved of.

With her siblings, it was a different story since they were never satisfied and what she did was never enough. This was how they were able to continue to demand things of Janet and how her guilt became the motivator for the endless support and devotion she gave to Karen and her other siblings.

About Unhealthy, Unreachable Standards & Codependency

Janet admitted to me that she spent all those hours in a hospital with Karen — tending to her every need — because she did not want to ever have to live with the consequences that she might have done more to help if Karen had died.

When we mistreat others or diminish their worth, we can create codependency whereby others look to us for their sense of esteem and for feeling good enough.

We would never want our children to grow up looking at others to feel worthy and receive approval.

We may realize that the pressure we place on our children for having certain standards of intelligence, beauty, competency in a specific skill or talent, and if we judge them as somehow different or less than what we would deem as good enough, we can create much damage.

Parents need to consider what standards they teach their children. Are they unrealistic ideals or power messages emphasizing the uniqueness?

Read more: Mental health rates are on the rise for young people. Learn more about the impact of social media on youth mental health.

Teaching Children To Develop Self-Love, Self-Esteem & Confidence

Because I often work with adults who have lived a lifetime of hearing comments and criticism that has damaged their self-worth, I can tell you just how important it is to teach your children how to see and know their beauty, their strength, their intelligence, and their abilities for success, as a monumental aspect of helping them develop their self-esteem.

I cannot stress enough to parents who may themselves be caught up in the cycle of comparing themselves to what they depict is the standard to aspire to, and to have them rethink their values and what they are demonstrating as normative behavior for their children.

For parents who struggle themselves with what is beautiful, attractive, and good enough; please consider the standards that you are choosing to set for your child because of what you already believe in.

And yes, it is true — you likely adopted your beliefs from what you heard read, saw, and were taught by your caregivers. It’s a cycle that continues repeating itself until someone (hopefully this will be you ) chooses to make a change in what they believe and what they live by.

Because, ultimately, you want to get off the roller coaster ride of always striving towards an unlikely ideal and the critical self-talk that was never your own.

When you choose to set your standards for what you will believe in and for what is right and best for who you are, it allows you the freedom to pursue your happiness by what standards are really your own.

You cultivate authentic happiness by teaching your children to appreciate their unique and special talents and strengths.

Childhood is foundational and transformational regarding personality and perception of the world. Practicing meditation beneficially affects the emotional, intellectual and mental development of children. Discover our large collection of meditation for kids.

Learn Self-Acceptance From The Non-Judgmental Eyes Of Your Children

Likely, your children will teach you much about self-acceptance as you observe them explore, be creative, use their imagination, play, and express themselves in the world in a way that allows them to be at their best.

Parents can learn a lot about self-acceptance from children.

If you want to adopt new ways of thinking and feeling about yourself, it might be wise to use these same fresh eyes in seeing who you are. Never comparing, just seeing your beauty, attractiveness, intelligence, resilience, and so much more.

If you wish to improve parts of yourself, let it be because you want to feel even better about who you are, and perhaps because these areas, once improved, will allow you to feel more special, intelligent, confident, and proud; and not because you have some ideal based on what another person has said you should do.

Guilt Can Still Be A Motivator Sometimes

Is it okay to do something out of guilt rather than love? It’s okay.. Although, it’s not ideal. I think, by now, you can understand how Janet’s decisions to do all that she could for her sister were fueled primarily out of guilt and the impending doom of what criticism and hurtful words she would have to take from Karen if she did not do enough.

What was remarkable and optimistic for Janet was her ability to have boundaries in place during this most difficult time and to be strong-willed enough to remind Karen that she could easily walk out of the hospital and home to her family, who hadn’t really seen much of her for the last several months, if Karen’s aggressive and unkind words continued.  This seemed to work for a while since Karen began to get the message — even though she never expressed a “thank you” to her older sister.

Regain Your Power

You can always teach others how to treat you, no matter how long it has been that they have been unkind or even abusive. You can stand your ground to others and politely, firmly, and perhaps with an injection of humor, speak your truth.

You can also begin to see your worth as something that is not based on whether you are skinny enough, or beautiful by certain standards, or superior in intelligence. You can rather honor a path that you determine is right and best for who you are —  based on liking, and eventually loving yourself, wholly and completely, because ultimately you are more than enough.

(The names of my client Janet and others have been changed to maintain confidentiality. Additional details or circumstances may have also been altered, to ensure their utmost privacy.)

Let your self-love, confidence, inner wisdom and self-acceptance flourish with the help of these handpicked meditations led by Dorothy Ratusny herself:

  1. Body Care & Self Love Meditation for Self Acceptance Dorothy Ratusny 25:25
  2. Love Notes To Myself - A Meditative Poem Dorothy Ratusny 6:41
  3. A Massage To My Younger Self - A spoken word reflection Dorothy Ratusny 5:54
  4. Listen To The Wisdom Of Your Heart Meditation Dorothy Ratusny 12:20
  5. Freedom Comes From Love Meditation Dorothy Ratusny 14:26

Discover all guided meditations and talks by Dorothy Ratusny.

Get on the path towards a confident life with the help of guided confidence meditation practices that better the internal dialogue.

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