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Ask an Edge Expert: October 2017

Posted on: September 28, 2017

This month’s blog is about “Being With” your child and not trying to save them from feeling uncomfortable. “Connecting before Redirecting”.

October 2017

Featured Expert: Carly Schrimpl, LCSW

“Being With” Learn ways to flourish your Child’s Self-Worth

Parents are on frontlines of developing self-worth for the children they care about. It is often underestimated the power and importance of a parent’s connectedness to their child. According to the attachment gurus in the field like Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. Dan Siegel, and Dr. Bruce Perry, secure attachments build self-esteem and worth. Having a strong foundation that your child is precious, giving them voice, and sharing fun experiences with them is just the beginning of creating a foundation for self- esteem. It is important to understand that as children develop they continue to test parents who desperately need attunement and a safe adult that is emotionally present.

With high advances in technology, it is often difficult to be emotionally present, especially when we are connected to five different devices. But, setting electronics aside and just “being with” is an important element of creating self-worth for children because the message is “You are worth it.”

Parents juggle so many activities, finances, navigation, scheduling, cooking, cleaning, and teaching children that it is often easy to dismiss or deny a child from feeling a certain feeling without even realizing that you are doing it.

As parents it is often easy to try to “save” children we care about. When they come to an adult with a difficult feeling about themselves such as “I am stupid.” it is almost an instant reaction to proclaim “No, you are not. You are smart!” Unfortunately, adults may feel uncomfortable hearing this and want their child to feel worthy, so they respond in a more matter of fact way. However, just by saying this statement does not mean that the child stops believing that they are stupid.   When a parent responds this way they are denying that the child has that feeling, which can be counter-productive to building self-worth.

So what do you do when a child comes to you with a statement like this?

The first recommendation is to explore the feeling with empathy. For instance, by saying “ Oh hunny, you think you are stupid?” This validation shows that you are willing to “be with” the child in their hard feeling.  As Dr. Siegel suggests, connecting before redirecting. Then it is really important for the parent to be able to help them explore “why” they feel that way.  Parents can respond with “Can you tell me reasons why you feel stupid?”

After the child explains reasons, the second recommendation is for the parent to challenge the child reach to a difficult conclusion. You can use experiences with other people or yourself such as by saying “ Well, I sometimes forget does that make me stupid?” When your child says “No” then you can offer evidence as to why you might feel the child is not stupid. “I noticed you are smart when, or I was proud of you when…” to help support that you see the strengths your child has even when they are stuck in a feeling.

Another recommendation to consider is that parents do not always have to offer solutions. Sometimes, the simple act of “being with” the child and not offering solutions can be more powerful because of the message becomes “I hear you. You are worth it to me.”

This approach is more time consuming than saying “No, you are not. You are smart.” However, shutting down a feeling or thought does not mean the thought won’t come back the next time a child experiences a challenge such as homework, an embarrassing event, or comparing themselves to other children.

It is also important for parents to model appropriate self-talk in situations where mistakes are made on their part. So instead of shouting at yourself or mumbling under your breath in the target parking lot because you forgot something to buy, you can model positive self-talk. This modeling will help your child integrate brain development with positive self-worth. For instance, “I am angry right now because I forgot something on the list. I feel forgetful and having a hard time with this feeling, but I know that I won’t always remember everything and it is okay.”

The importance of “being with” helps develop secure attachment that builds positive self-worth in children. Parents are individuals that help their children become strong and confident through their attunement and relationship. Children deserve full attention, deserve to be validated (wherever they may be), have safe adults modeling positive self-talk, and have loving parents that will challenge them to believe that they are worth it.