People tend to think of self-esteem almost as if it is a product you can buy. Perhaps it is because of all the advertising which shows people smiling and feeling good when they use the products. Or, they think of it as a condition, like needing more iron in their diet or getting more rest.
Self-esteem is the result or outcome of one’s relationship with one’s self. It is a by-product of how a person treats him or herself.
Children are not born having a relationship with self. It starts with their relationship with others. Parents do things to them and with them. Babies and toddlers respond and react to the ways in which they are handled and cared for. Over time they develop a relationship with self from how they are treated by others. The quality of those interactions is a major factor in determining the quality of relationship a child develops with himself.
Children are not born loving themselves. They learn they are loveable (or not) by the experiences of being loved by those that look after them. At first, love comes externally. If they feel loveable, over time children internalize the love they experience and in this way they learn to love themselves.
Billy knew he was loved. As a baby, his mother’s eyes lit-up when she saw him. She talked to him a lot. She was always affectionate with him and took very good care of him.
His father smiled at him frequently. He spent time with him: playing roughhousing, sports and games. He taught him many things about the world and the way it worked. If Billy had any questions or problems, he knew he could always go to either parent. They stood up for him whenever they thought he needed support and gave him constant guidance. His parents did not have much money, yet they created a safe fun environment.
Billy felt loved, valued, understood, protected, and accepted. He felt cherished, just because he existed. He felt he belonged in his family. He felt good about himself, confident in himself and his abilities. To him, the world was an amazing place.
Sammy was not sure if he was loved or not. He had a sad mother. She took care of him, but she rarely smiled at him. She often did not look at him directly as she cared for him. She was impatient, yelling a lot. She was seldom affectionate, and she seemed to resent the time she spent with him. She read a lot. Sometimes she was okay, even telling him she loved him. But Sammy did not feel loved.
Dad was away half the time, and when he was home he was tired and distracted. He did not have time or energy for Sammy. When he heard his parents arguing, it was always about him. He felt like it was his fault, that he was bad, but he wasn’t sure how. The family had money, and it seemed to Sammy that money is what mattered, not him.
Sammy did not feel loved or valued. He felt he was a burden on his mother and father. He tried to be as good as he could to please his parents, but it rarely worked. He didn’t really feel he belonged to this family, more like he was visiting and it would soon end. He did not feel good about himself. He was unsure of how to be and how to act. The world was a scary place that he had to figure out on his own.
Each child comes to conclusions about themselves from their experiences of interactions with parents and others in their childhood. These conclusions may be accurate or inaccurate. Children do not even realize they come to conclusions; they are just living their lives. Some adults report specific memories of decisions they deliberately made as a young child. But most of the time, these conclusions are made without realizing it, get buried in the subconscious and operate out of awareness.
When a child has felt loved, valued and connected to the significant people in his life, he is more likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have high self- esteem. Conversely, when a child experiences lack of love and belonging, he is less likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have low self-esteem.
With care and concern,
Fighting and goofing around are distracting to the driver. It is also dangerous for the drivers to be upset and yelling at their passengers. The best thing to do is develop a strategy for safe driving.
When my kids were young, we spent a lot of time driving from one activity to another. We lived several miles from most activities so there was lots of time spent in the car. When they would fight or noisily goof around, I found it distracting. Yelling didn’t work, and besides I hated yelling and nagging at them.
I decided to stop trying to make them stop. I developing a strategy. I told them it was not safe for me to drive when there is fighting going on. I told them I would pull over to the side of the road as soon as it was safe to do so and wait until they stopped. They didn’t believe me, but I knew they wouldn’t until I followed through on what I had said I’d do.
So I began to do it. At first it happened quite a lot. I kept my word – I pulled over as soon as it was safe to do so and waited until they quieted down. In the beginning it seemed like a game to them. I was careful to keep my body language neutral and matter-of-fact, no eye rolling, no heavy sighs, no tense clipped speech. One time, they took a particularly long time to quiet down. So instead of “losing it” I stepped out of the vehicle and stood beside it. I never left the boys alone in the vehicle. When they finally quieted down, I got back in the car and without saying a word, started driving again. They didn’t like just sitting in the car and not getting where they were going whether it was school, soccer or home. So they started quieting down sooner. Eventually, when they realized I was slowing down to pull off to the side of the road, they would quickly quiet down. Without saying a word, I would pull back onto the road and speed up.
Somewhere along the way, it became a non-issue, without anyone discussing it. Being noisy in the car just seemed to hardly happen at all.
This was accomplished without me yelling, getting upset, reasoning, pleading, nagging, threatening, guilt-tripping, being impatient or getting angry. Having a strategy really helped me remain calm. I felt in control of the situation in a way that was positive for the boys.
It may take some time for the plan to take effect so be prepared to be patient. The plan may even have to be tweaked a bit.
The same strategy used with an angry negative delivery could turn into a power struggle. This could make the dynamics between all persons involved worse.
The first time I ever experienced exhaustion was after having my first baby. I had no idea what exhaustion felt like. I had had a difficult birth, spent 8 days in the hospital, and when I got home I just expected myself to carry on as I had before the birth. One afternoon a neighbour came over to visit and see the new baby. She asked me how I was, and I responded that I was fine. We talked some more, and she asked me again how I was. Again, I responded that I was fine. The third time she asked me I started to cry and couldn’t stop. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I got her to leave, and then I thought I’d go grocery shopping because I knew that out in public I’d stop crying. Well, I had difficulty paying the cashier for the groceries because the tears were rolling down my face and I could not talk. She couldn’t give me my change fast enough. Once I got home I had to acknowledge that something was wrong with me, and it took me a while to realize it was exhaustion.
Because of that experience, I learned that my body gives me signals about my level of fatigue. But because I had never been exhausted before, I did not recognize the signals. Even if I had noticed them, I would not have known what to do about it.
What I learned about myself. When I’m somewhat tired my left eyelid twitches, and when I’m very tired, I get a specific type of nausea. These two signals now guide me on when I need to rest. The eyelid twitch is a ‘heads-up’ to plan to get some rest soon, and the nausea is strong message I need to rest ASAP. I have learned to respect these signals and act on them. It prevents me from getting to the state of exhaustion again.
Pay attention to the sensations in your body and learn what they mean.
With care and concern,
I was hanging out with my two and a half year old grandson one Saturday at my home, playing with him as usual. He spied some rocks that I’ve picked up in my travels at various places around the world. He picked them up and started to throw them. I said to him, “No flying rocks in the house.” He thought that was hilarious. I guess I shouldn’t have called them ‘flying rocks’. He wanted to throw them again. I grabbed the rocks before he could get them and would not give them to him. Well, he went into a rage! The classic 2 year old rage! I thought, “Oh oh. I’m in a power struggle.” To my surprise, I started to giggle. He was a little surprise, but kept on with his tantrum. Still giggling, I got up and ran into my bedroom and rolled across the bed. He came running after me. The chase was on! As I rolled across the bed, I hid the rocks under the pillows. Then I rolled off the other side of the bed and ran out of the room. By now he was laughing and giggling too. I’m sure watching Nana roll across the bed was hoot. The rocks were forgotten and our fun afternoon continued.
A week later we’re hanging out again. He saw the rocks sitting on the night table beside my bed. I thought, “I should have hidden them.” He tried to stack them up and was having difficulty doing it. I helped him stack them. Once stacked, he lost interested in them and went on to something else. He showed no interest in throwing them.
I remember this type interaction happening with my sons when they were little. But giggling to shift out of a power struggle was not something I could have done back then. It certainly never occurred to me to do so. I was not as secure in myself then. Also, I was a much more serious person than I am now.
I also realize that being a grandmother is very different than being a parent. I hangout with my grandson a few hours a week – it’s not the 24/7 parents deal with. Even so, I wished I had been able to handle power struggles with more lightness when I’d been a young mother.
There are many ways to get out of power struggles with others. Try giggling your way out of power struggles with your children or grandchildren – maybe even adults.
With care and concern,
Recently one of my clients talked about the confusion and distress her teenage son was experiencing at going back and forth between his mom’s home and his dad’s home. She said her heart went out to him when he said to her, “I feel like I don’t live anywhere.” She responded to his plight by telling him that he could live with her and that he could visit his father anytime he wanted. Fortunately, for the adolescent, the parents worked well around custody and access. The mother discussed with her ex-husband their son’s distress and he agreed that the son could live full time with his mother. She said her son’s confusions and distress lessened once he settle down full time at her place. He continued to see his father a lot.
One day recently my two year old grandson punched me. I handled it in the same way I handled my own children when they bit or hit me at that age.
I said, “Oh, you want to play the Punching Game.” He said, “Yes.” We started swinging, pretending to punch each other. We did not hit each other. At first, I would just touch (not hit) him occasionally with my fist until I realize that he was not touching me at all. So I stopped touching him.
When someone in your family tells you a memory, pay close attention. They are sharing their modus operandi for life with you. If there are unhealed traumas from the past, talking about painful memories can help your family member heal.
Children have millions of experiences by the time they are around five to six years old but they only remember a few of them. Why do they remember only a few and why those particular ones? When children are born into this world they quickly have to figure out how to survive, emotionally and physically. It is the emotion surrounding an event that determines meaning. With their limited knowledge and experience of life they come to conclusions about self, others and life. Then they live their life according to the conclusions they’ve come to, whether those conclusions are conscious or unconscious. Memories after the age of 6 are important as well; they tend to confirm or disconfirm previous conclusions.
1. Listen to the memories without interrupting. Your parent, spouse, child, sibling, cousin or other relative is telling you something important about themselves. Paying attention to them shows them you are interested in them and care about them.
2. Memories can be happy, neutral or unhappy/painful. Enjoy the happy ones, be curious about the neutral ones and be empathetic with the painful ones. Often, healing can occur through the expression of feelings alone. It is possible for a child and an adult to heal emotionally from talking to a caring person about an experience they had as a child or young adult.
3. Validate their experiences and the meaning they make of them. Do not argue about whether the events happened or not. Just because you don’t remember an event does not mean it did not happen. Or, if you remember the same event differently, it means you made different meaning out of it. Do not be concerned about the truth or facts of the memory. It may or may not be accurate. It is not about the facts; it is about the meaning the person made of their experience and the facts.
4. Do not assume you know what their memory means. Ask “What do you make of that?” Say, “Tell me more about that.” Invite your family member to say more by being curious about it.
5. Validate the feelings generated in the memory, positive and/or negative.
6. If you want to share memories of your own, wait until they are finished.
Note: Memories are not static. As a person ages and their circumstances change, their memories may change, or even be forgotten completely.
Reminiscing is healthy if family members are open to listening to each other.
The above holds true of people who are non-family members as well.
With care and concern,
Joey comes into the kitchen wanting a cookie. It’s just before dinner and the smell of dinner is adding to Joey’s hunger. Dad is cooking dinner and knows if he gives Joey a cookie it will take the edge off his appetite for dinner. They argue about whether or not Joey can have a cookie. Would you consider this a fight?
What is fighting for some people is not fighting for others. Raised voices – yelling – hitting – which of these is your definition of fighting?
When asked for their definition of fighting parents-of-preschoolers responded with answers such as – conflicted communication, not listening, not hearing, arguing, punching, hitting, disagreements, arguing in a strong way beyond reason and logic, walking away from the issue, misunderstandings, raised blood pressure, lots of anger and frustration, loss of rational thought, yelling, high stress and more.
In this post fighting is considered any conflict, from a minor squabble to a physical battle.
Fighting prepares children for conflict in life, both at home in the family and in the world at large. Children who grow up in families where there never is any fighting, or parents hide fighting from the children or fighting is not allowed, are not prepared to deal conflict whether it be with family members or with other people outside the family. Children need to experience fighting to learn how to handle it. Then they can better protect themselves and those they care about through life.
Because there will always be conflicts in families it is not a question of if but how members of a family fight. There are different ways to fight and it is really beneficial for children to learn to fight in a healthy constructive ways.
In unhealthy fighting parents and children try to get what they want from each other and do not care if they hurt, inconvenience or harm each other. They argue and yell, but they never get to a better place. After the fight is over there are just bad feelings and a sense of frustration. No resolution. No positive change.
I call these the merry-go-round fights. It’s like getting on a merry-go-round, going round and round, and when you get off you’re no further ahead than before you got on. At first you’re willing to get on the merry-go-round, that is, you’re willing to engage in a fight, but after awhile you realize that there is no point in spending the time and energy because you will be in the same place, maybe even worse, after it’s over. So you stop engaging in fighting. You withdraw. You disengage from whoever it is you’re fighting with – maybe others as well.
Fighting that is loud, excessive, violent or out of control is terrifying for children. Yelling terrifies children and makes their bodies cringe in distress. They can get so traumatized from it that they avoid conflict at all costs or become bullies themselves. They often grow up to be fearful adults or bullies and are emotionally handicapped.
In healthy fighting parents and children stand up for themselves and consider each other as they are do so. They try to find win/win outcomes. The fight gets resolved and the relationship improves. Everyone feels good about the outcome. The fight is worthwhile.
It’s really helpful for children to watch their parent have a fight with each other and resolve the fight in a productive way. They learn from this that fighting, even though it may be distressful, is normal and can be constructive. They learn how a marriage and couple relationship works – that there will be fighting and that it can be resolved.
Healthy fighting prepares children for life. They experience it and learn to tolerate it. They learn to take part and work toward constructive outcomes. They learn, through experience and modeling of their parents that fighting can make for better relationships and a better life.
To learn to handle differences and resolve problems see the protocol: Sooner Better than Later. It is designed for couples but is appropriate for family members too.
With care and concern,
Parents and children fight about all sorts of things – chores, what to wear, bedtime, tidy your room, calling home, friends, grades, taking care of belonging, money, etc.
Underlying every conflict is a struggle about standards and values and wants and needs. Parents have certain standards and values. In one household there may a standard of tidiness while in another there is a standard of messiness. It is not about what is right and what is wrong. It’s about our differences as people. Different people have different standards. Babies don’t have standards, they learn them from the people who raise them. Children learn the standards of their parents and take them on as their own or reject them as they mature.
Both children and parents have wants and needs. Often the wants and needs of children conflict with the standards and values of their parents and may even conflict with the wants and needs of parents. Frequently the standards and values of the parents differ. As a couple they may have no difficulty handling their differences. But once a couple has children, their differences really come to the foreground as they parent their children. For example, a couple who have different religious beliefs may respect each other’s choice but may conflict about which religion their children will experience.
Survival of children and families depends on the children learning to adapt the society they are born into. Different cultures have different standards and values. What is considered fine in one culture may be abhorred in another.
Parenting is mostly about parents transmitting their standards and values to their children. Children come into the world without standards and values and discover their parents (and society’s) values as they try and get their wants and needs met.
Any conflict can be reduced to
1. standards and values conflict with standards and values
2. wants and needs conflict with wants and needs.
3. Standards and values conflict with wants and needs.
Remember Joey. He is hungry. Hunger is a need. As dinner approaches he gets hungrier and hungrier especially as he smells the food cooking. Dad has the standard of eating nutritious food at dinner time and knows that if he gives Joey a cookie it may spoil his appetite for nutritious food. If Dad offers him some raw vegetables and some yummy dip instead of a cookie Joey will be able to stave off his hunger pains even though he didn’t get what he wanted and Dad will feel good about Joey eating nutritious food.