“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.”
– Michael Levine, American author and motivator
Beliefs are something we accept as true, without question.
We live our life around them, often without thinking about them, questioning them or even being aware of them.
An estimated 80 per cent of our belief system is in place by the time we’re 10 years old and only 10 per cent of us will ever raise our awareness and re-examine those beliefs.
Lack of awareness of a choice is the same as having no choice at all.
It was a startling statistic when I read it years ago and it remains so today.
I discovered it when I began my self-esteem journey and eventually used the insight as Factor Number One in my popular self-help book Extreme Esteem — The Four Factors.
The more I learn about early programming and the more I coach clients profoundly impacted by negative or unhealthy early programming, the more I recognize the enormous responsibility of parenthood.
Patterns of self-esteem start early in life. Once we reach adulthood, concepts of self-love, personal value, worthiness and deservability become far more difficult to shift.
It has been said that healthy self-esteem is like a child’s armour against the ravages of the world.
Children who recognize their strengths and challenges and feel good about themselves have an easier time resolving conflicts and resisting negative influences.
These children also tend to smile more readily, enjoy life and are generally more realistic and confident.
In contrast, kids with low self-esteem find challenges and conflict to be sources of major anxiety and frustration. (And it typically gets worse as they grow older.)
Children who think poorly of themselves tend to focus on problems rather than solutions.
If prone to self-critical thoughts such as “I’m worthless” or “No matter how hard I try it’s never good enough ” or “No one will ever love me,” they may become passive, withdrawn or depressed — the classic victim mentality.
The reverse is also true where children can become angry, aggressive — even bitter and resentful.
It seems obvious that the better the self-esteem of the parent or parents, the more likely they are to raise a child or children to have a positive sense of self and a healthier level of self-love.
It’s interesting to note that many issues we consider genetic such as a bad temper or disagreeable nature are not genetic at all but rather learned behaviours.
Parents with poor self-esteem and an unhealthy self-image will literally and often, unconsciously, teach their children how to live in a place a fear, to feel unworthy and thus perpetuate the negative family cycle.
Yes, this is an overly simplistic representation as there are many variables that impact a child’s self-esteem during the formative years: culture, religion and especially school relationships and peer pressure.
That acknowledged, children with healthy self-esteem will often traverse this treacherous landscape more successfully than their less empowered peers. If you’re curious about your child’s level of self-esteem, one of the easiest things you can do is listen — listen when they speak and listen closely to what they say.
Children with low self-esteem often speak negatively about themselves: “I’m stupid,” “I’ll never figure this out,” or “What’s the point? No-one cares anyway.”
Behaviourally, they may exhibit a low tolerance for frustration, become disappointed easily, give up or refuse to participate in family activities.
Children with low self-esteem see temporary setbacks as permanent conditions. This can place them at risk for stress and both mental and physical health problems later in life.
A tremendous amount of research has been conducted looking for a correlation between certain types of physical and emotional disorders and early childhood programming.
Hungarian-born Canadian physician Gabor Maté, author of the international best-seller When the Body says No — the cost of hidden stress, believes that many issues including disease and mental/emotional disorders can be traced back to patterns established during the formative years.
In his book he offers compelling evidence to support this assertion.
What can we do to become better parents?
Work on our self-esteem and as we learn and grow in our sense of worth and self-love, pass it along. We can also learn to accept responsibility for every aspect of our lives — even those issues that originated with our early programming.
The best thing we can do is be a positive and consistent role model. If we are overly harsh on ourselves, negative or unrealistic about our abilities and limitations, our children may eventually mirror our behaviour. Nurture your own self-esteem and they’ll have a great role model.
Barbara Coloroso, an internationally recognized American authority on parenting, writes, “Encouraging a child means that one or more of the following critical life messages are coming through, either by word or by action: I believe in you, I trust you, I know you can handle this, you are listened to, you are cared for and you are very important to me.”
As a young parent, I made a lot of mistakes — some of which still affect my children.
Like most of you, I made mistakes because I was young and inexperienced and because my own self-esteem was poor.
Despite my mistakes, my children have grown up to be essentially well-balanced and productive.
As I began to work on my own self-esteem, I began to sit down with them and discuss openly some of the issues originating out of their formative years.
Open and honest dialogue has allowed me to undo some of the missteps and to reinforce much of the positive.
My children know that I’m human with my own faults and foibles but that I did my best, and that I love each of them dearly and, like them, I’m still learning, growing and evolving.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.