Emotionally Intelligent Children Say “I Love Me” First
Does the title of this article bring up images of self-centered, egotistical, indulgent children? After all, the Millennial Generation (those children born after 1980), have gotten the rap of being the group of children that are both savvy educationally and technologically efficient and the most indulged compared to previous generations of children before them. Yet, here’s the myth buster: teaching children to say “I love me” or to practice the tenets of self-love does not turn children into a generation of narcissists or demanding, selfish children. In fact, it leads to the complete opposite.
The “I Love Me Generation” would be characterized by being caring and loving towards themselves as well as to others. They would be appreciative of their talents and be accepting of who they are. By being accepting of themselves, they would in turn be the same towards their friends, classmates, siblings, and parents.
Most importantly, because of loving themselves, they would be able to make loving decisions that lead to prudent actions. This means questioning and refraining from overindulging in drugs and alcohol, having sex before you are mature enough to handle it, partaking in bullying and humiliating behavior to others, and being in unhealthy relationships that cause pain and hurt. Being able to love yourself demonstrated by lots of “I love me” actions leads to true, authentic “I love you” to others.
Most parents tell their children that they love them and most believe that speaking those words over and over again will gain validity and that children will then internalize the daily “I love yous” and become confident, self-loving individuals. Unfortunately, the message children actually hear is that someone else loves them and it bypasses the notion that they have to learn how to love themselves first in order to pass on that loving behavior on to others.
Also, parents may mistake self-love with self-esteem. They may look similar word-wise but actually one has to come before the other. When you love yourself first it creates a natural by-product of high self-esteem that helps build confidence and the courage to try and experience new things in life. The more self-love generated, the more self-worth is created and demonstrated.
To reinforce a child’s self-love, here are some simple things that help children remember more of those “I love me’s” on a daily basis:
1. Practice the “Love Hug”: This is a wonderful exercise for young children to practice every day. Have them hug themselves while saying “I LOVE ME, I LOVE THEE, I LOVE MYSELF IN EVERY WAY, EVERY DAY!” Make it a family ritual, either at night before they go to sleep or when they wake up in the morning to remind them to love themselves.
2. Create an “I LOVE ME” Jar: In a jar or box with a lid, put strips of paper which a parent or child can write loving thoughts or activities to do every day. It could an activity that promotes loving and caring for themselves or things that they love about themselves.
3. Make a screen saver: Especially for preteen or teens, have them create a screen saver on their computer that endorses the I Love Me message. It is a subtle, subliminal way for them to see the loving message every day. Examples: “Everyday Live Loving Kindness to Myself and Others” or “It’s Cool to Love Me”.
4. Practice making loving decisions: Our daily life decisions reflect the amount of care and love we have for ourselves. Teach children to use two important questions in their decision- making: “Is this (action, thought pattern, or relationship) the most loving to me?” and “What are the most loving things I can do for myself (or for others) in this situation?”
Teaching children how to love themselves can be the antidote to helping children deal with all of the external forces that they get bombarded with on a daily basis. As parents it is difficult to shield our children from the daily violence they may watch on TV and see in movies, or the damaging messages and actions that children encounter that are said or shown with or without intent. Yet, having the fortitude of enough “I love me” under their belt, gives them the ability to withstand challenging situations and to move forward in a much more positive manner.
Lastly, teaching these skills is a long-term investment that will last a lifetime for children and will impact them from their education, to the ability to relate to others to their chosen job or career. And that’s what all parents want, right?
Dr. Andrea Weiner is the founder of Emotionally Smart Beginnings, educational products teaching emotional and social skills for children and parents. She is the author of The Best Investment: Unlocking the Secrets of Social Success for Your Child and More Than Saying I Love You: Four Powerful Steps That Help Children Love Themselves. Her books have made her a popular media guest, parent coach, lecturer and workshop leader. For tips on how to help your child develop lifelong skills based on social and emotional intelligence and well-being visit: www.drandie.com.