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There is a well-known saying: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
It’s a powerful sentiment, and one worth considering. A recent study concluded that children as young as TWO begin caring about their reputations. Researchers found children displayed more controlled behavior when they knew they were being watched.
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As parents, we want this to an extent--children must care what others think and feel about them in order to develop relationships. But what happens when our kids care too much about what others think? What happens when they lose touch with their intrinsic self-worth?
The need to feel accepted makes us human. Yet, there is incredible power in helping kids value their opinions about themselves above those of others.
Here are 3 simple ways to get started:
1. Encourage Self-Reflection
For kids to value (or even know) their opinions, self-awareness is critical. Providing time for them to consider and reflect on their thoughts, values, and beliefs is key to this process.
A simple method for encouraging self-reflection is by asking kids what they think. The next time your child seeks your opinion or shares someone else’s, respond with curiosity and openness. Ask, “What do YOU believe?” or “What would YOU do?” rather than immediately providing feedback.
You can also:
- Integrate self-reflection into daily rituals like family meetings, or your morning and evening routine.
- Use conversation starters (“I am like no one else because…”/ “Something you don’t know about me is…”/”If I had one wish…”) and take turns selecting one from a jar each day.
- Rephrase your child’s opinions using terms like “seems like” or “sounds like” to check for accuracy (“It seems like you’d rather wear the purple dress even though you also liked the pants. Is that right?”).
- Cultivate gratitude by asking, “What are you grateful for today?” or “What went well?” and check out Big Life Kids Podcast Episode 7: “Discover How Gratitude Can Change Your Life”).
- Encourage journal writing (or journal drawing for younger kids). Check out the Big Life Journal 2nd Edition for children ages 7-10. This beautiful journal is filled with encouraging stories, space to draw, and fun writing prompts. It’s designed to help children believe in themselves and cultivate a growth mindset.
“Self-reflection helps us realize some things are out of our control and need to be accepted as part of our life’s journey. It gives us the space to recognize who we are and to accept and love ourselves.”
- Lea McKnoulty, children’s author and illustrator
2. Broaden Their Horizons
In the US, children spend an average of seven hours a day in school (that’s 1200 hours a year!). It’s no wonder that for many, the universe seems to begin and end there.
Often, what seems like a minor issue to parents--a recess argument or lunchroom snub--feels devastating to them. When kids are feeling excluded or judged, how can we show them there’s a big world outside of their classroom?
Start by helping kids create a “friendship tree” naming friends from a wide variety of contexts: sports, clubs, religious organizations, and extracurriculars. Just as a family tree extends beyond the home, friendships grow far beyond the walls of the school. (Tip: Brainstorm how they can make new branches of friends by participating in different activities.)
Next, consider the following:
- Arrange playdates or outings with peers from many settings.
- Encourage extracurricular activities outside of the school environment.
- Engage in arts--painting, drawing, music--to improve self-esteem (a recent study found a significant association between self-esteem and arts engagement, regardless of a child’s ability). Check out the Confidence & Self Esteem Kit for fun and hands-on activities designed to help children believe in themselves and their capabilities.
- Connect with the school. Volunteering in the classroom is a surefire way of getting to know other kids/parents and helping your child navigate their social world.
Finally, consider summer camps as a unique way for kids to branch out. Camps based on specific interests (Girls Who Code, Kids ‘N’ Comedy Camp, or Girls Leadership Camp to name a few) rather than age groups, are a powerful reminder that like-minded peers exist.
“During the year, a school is a place of permanence and caution; a single mistake can follow you for months. [C] amp offers a thrilling mix of something new and temporary, creating the perfect recipe for healthy risk-taking.”
-Rachel Simmons, bestselling author, and educator
3. Keep It In Perspective
Almost daily, a student arrives at my guidance office for help with a social interaction gone wrong. Typically, the student is worried about how they were perceived, and what their peer is now thinking of them.
A helpful phrase I gently (and often) say is, “The only person thinking about YOU is YOU.” I explain that yes, your peer is likely considering what happened too. But they are wondering how they were perceived (rather than judging or thinking poorly of you).
In addition to sharing this new perspective, consider the following options:
- Use the Circle of Control Poster to describe what we CAN control--our behavior, attitude, and responses to others versus what we CANNOT control--what anyone else thinks or feels about us.
- Have kids identify the “worst-case scenario” of being judged. Ask, “What’s the absolute worst thing that can happen if someone thinks this?”
- Similarly, ask the worst-case scenario of living a life defined by others: “What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t do what makes you happy because you’re worried what others will say and think?”
- Get inspired by the Big Life Kids Podcast (Check out Episode 9: “Celebrate Your Uniqueness” and Episode 10: “Peyton Celebrates Who She Is”).
Even with these strategies, sometimes children still have big feelings about how others perceive them. When that happens, make sure they know some coping skills for handling their emotions (visiting a chosen teacher or counselor at school, taking a deep breath, or positive affirmations can help).Finally, remember that it’s normal (and even healthy) for kids to care what others think of them--everyone does. But with effort, they can begin the powerful practice of valuing their thoughts and opinions of themselves more.