Growing up can be difficult, often very difficult. Children are increasingly subject to the message that they need to do more, be more, and have more in order to be successful. Young women in particular seem subject to the role of being perfect: getting straight A’s, excelling athletically, having the perfect body, being nice, volunteering—the list goes on and on.
This constant drive to do more, have more, and be more, while doing, having, and being perfect, is enough to make even the most grounded adult feel anxious. The results of a recent study completed at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, are not surprising: one-third of US teens are stressed out on a daily basis, while nearly two-thirds are stressed at least once a week.
Plus, as any parent can attest, children, and adolescents are not always supportive of their peers, and that is putting it mildly. If a child is overweight or suffers from acne, the jokes and bullying can be enough to make anyone squeamish. The pressure to conform and fit in is paramount, yet adolescents work to discover who they are as unique individuals.
Furthermore, adolescence is a time when bodies and psyches are changing rapidly and dramatically. Hormone levels are fluctuating, girls are developing curves and their sexuality is awakening. They are thinking about college and career, while also maintaining a social life and navigating the complexities of romantic relationships.
It is no wonder that adolescence is often marked by crisis. It is a time when many children become involved in drugs, partying, and other risky behaviors. It is also the time when many young women develop eating disorders. When life is overflowing with change, controlling food and controlling one’s body can bring a welcomed source of relief. Unfortunately, eating patterns and body-image beliefs that are created at this age will often last for years, often with disastrous results. If your daughter struggles with her body and food as an adolescent, intervention is required to help her create healthy patterns that will serve her throughout her adult life.
In order to help your daughter not only survive but ultimately thrive through her adolescence and into adulthood you must help her develop a healthy self-esteem, an unshakable sense of self-worth, and a healthy emotional life. Over time, this will translate into a healthy relationship with her body and herself. According to best-selling author Daniel Goleman having high emotional intelligence is critical to success. What makes people excel in life is not so much their IQ but rather their EI. It is the ability of people to master their “inner game”, to navigate the complexities of their own emotional life with the natural ups and downs, pains and pleasures, of daily living, that will define the successful from the mediocre.
What does it mean for your child to have a healthy self-esteem and self-worth? No one wants their child to be conceited or self-centered, and a healthy self-esteem doesn’t mean that they think they are better than anyone else. Rather, having a healthy self-esteem and self-worth means they know they have intrinsic value, that is not dependent on what they have, how much they accomplish, or what they do.
A healthy emotional life means that your child is able to navigate her own emotional landscape. This means she must be aware of her emotions and be able to both observe them and act on them in a constructive fashion. This is a huge challenge for many mature adults, much less adolescents. If your child learns these skills now, however, they will serve her throughout her life.
A healthy body-image means that your child feels good about her body. She does not believe that she needs to look a certain way in order to be successful. She is able to view her body with affection and admiration, focusing on her unique beauty and gifts, instead of wanting to look like someone else.
Here are some concrete tips to teach your daughter the skills she needs to survive and thrive in today’s world:
Encourage Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation are mind-body centering practices that will wield enormous benefits for your child. Yoga can help your daughter relax and reduce her stress. It can help her be at peace with her adolescent body.
Meditation is a key component of helping your daughter reduce her stress and develop emotional awareness. Meditation teaches her that she can observe her thoughts and emotions without reacting to them. It creates a space where she can notice the arising and subsiding of her emotions. She will realize that nothing is permanent. This practice will help her learn to take the many challenges that life presents in stride, knowing that nothing is forever. This experiential knowledge will help her navigate the constantly changing sea of adolescence with grace and poise.
Encourage Emotional Awareness and Constructive Communication
Understanding emotions is critical to living a healthy and successful life in this day and age. As a parent, you can set a profound example by modeling emotional intelligence for your child.
Talk about emotions and how important they are in life. Teach your child that experiencing emotion is never a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength. Teach her how to express her emotions effectively through conscious communication.
Affirm Her Intrinsic Beauty and Self-Worth
We all receive the message that we are beautiful and valuable if and when. Main-stream culture portrays that same message over and over again: We are beautiful when we are young and fit and thin; we are worthwhile when we are successful and accomplished.
The fact of the matter is we are intrinsically beautiful because we exist; we are worthwhile simply because we are. As a parent, you knew this the day your child was born. You daughter did not become valuable because of anything; she was valuable just because she was a unique human being. Teach her how to affirm her self-worth. Tell her regularly how much you value her simply because she exists. Show her how to repeat daily affirmations to herself that focus on her intrinsic value.
Teach Her to See the Intrinsic Beauty and Value in Others
Help your daughter cultivate the art of finding beauty and value in other people. Just as we are trained to look at ourselves with a critical lens, we often look at others with the same critical lens. When we shift our focus, however, to finding the beauty and value in everyone we meet, we realize that there is more beauty and wonder than we ever imagined. This will re-affirm to your daughter that beauty is more than skin-deep, and value is more than the sum of our accomplishments. Learning to see the inherent goodness in those around her will help her see the inherent goodness within herself.
Help Her Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
We are trained to see what we don’t like. Women grow up to instantly see what they don’t like about their bodies and themselves. It is easy to identify what is lacking from our lives.
With a little practice, however, we can shift our attention to everything that is right with ourselves and with the world. We can focus on what we are grateful for about our bodies. We can focus on what we are grateful for in our lives. When you teach your daughter to be grateful, you will help her to improve her outlook on life and build a solid foundation for building the future she wants. The simple act of being grateful can transform how she feels about and interacts with herself and the world.
Teach Her to Love Herself, To Be There For Herself
Teach your daughter how to love herself. Teach her how to affirm her own self-worth. When life is difficult and the pain seems so much greater than the pleasure, show her that she can support herself. She can offer herself appreciation and gratitude, support and encouragement. As a parent you can model these traits to her, but also teach her how to give this to herself. When she learns to stay with herself during life’s difficult times, to honor her emotions without reacting compulsively, to appreciate and be grateful for her goodness, she will have the skills she needs to be successful in our ever-challenging world.
Become an Example
As a parent, you know that your child is influenced more by what you do and who you are than anything you could ever say. Children model their parents unconsciously and constantly, mirroring their behavior, mannerisms, and beliefs with dizzying accuracy. So ask yourself: how do you feel about your body? How is your self-esteem and emotional intelligence? Are you in need of some body image improvement and self-esteem enhancement? If so, make a commitment to improving how you feel about your body and yourself. Become the model that you want to be for your child; this will help her create an unshakable belief in her own inherent beauty, goodness, and self-worth.