Friday, September 20, 2013

Be a role model for healthy self-esteem

It’s 8:45 p.m. (45 minutes past bedtime), and I’m sitting by the bedside of Abby, my 5-year-old, trying to comfort her. She’s crying.

 “I’m not perfect!” she sobs at me. “I have an ugly face, and I always do bad stuff!” 

My heart is breaking. A flood of emotions and questions clouds my thoughts as I try to figure out what to say to her. I just want to make her believe that she is beautiful, smart and loved unconditionally.

I’m confused. Where is this coming from?  Why does she feel this way? I mentioned that she’s only 5 years old, right!? 

I’m angry. Someone must have told her she was ugly or bad, but I’m not going to let them get away with it! 

Wait. Did I do something? Have I done something to make her feel this way?  Am I failing as a parent? 

And honestly I’m sad. It’s horrible to hear her say these terrible things about herself at this tender age.  She should be thinking about how much fun she’s had playing today or looking forward to what tomorrow will bring, not struggling with negative feelings about herself.

So I do my best to reassure her and tell her that no one’s perfect and that we all make mistakes every once in a while.  I tell her she is beautiful just the way God made her. I love her no matter what. 

She finally calms down, stops crying and falls asleep hugging Polka-dotty, her favorite stuffed animal.  I watch her sleep for a few minutes and marvel at how peaceful she looks now. 

I take a minute to try to put aside my confusion, anger, self-doubt and sadness, and I take a good look at myself.  

In all honesty, I have no one to blame but myself.  Don’t get me wrong—there are no obvious reasons for her to feel this way about herself.  Although we aren’t perfect, her father and I have a strong, loving marriage, we raise our children to know and love God, and we have a very supportive extended family.  But all that doesn’t get me off the hook. 

I am role-modeling this behavior for her.  How many times has she heard me say, “I look terrible in this!” or “if only I were skinnier” or some other version of downgrading myself while standing in front of the mirror trying to find something to wear? 

She has learned this attitude from me.  This incident is making me realize that to help her develop positive self-esteem, I’ll have to work on my self-esteem. I’m going to have to make an effort not to speak poorly about myself.  I need to be the person she needs me to be and, frankly, the person I need me to be.  If I can learn to love myself, perhaps I can teach her to do the same.  I know it won’t happen overnight, but we’ll work on this together.  And in the end we will both be happier!

And if someone is bullying her at preschool … I guess I’ll save that discussion for another blog!

During their formative years, pre-teen girls (4th-6th grades) are susceptible to issues concerning bullying, Internet safety, poor nutrition and low self-esteem. That’s why Texas Health Resources in collaboration with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health is providing support to young women in North Texas with the GiRL (Girls in Real Life) Power Program. At this critical stage in girls’ lives, GiRL Power hopes to strengthen the bond and dialogue between these girls and their mothers (or other important women) to build confidence and improve health. A GIRL Power event will be held in Dallas November 17 at Southern Methodist University. For more information, visit

Kendra Henderson is a nurse manager for the Newborn Nursery at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and the mother of 5-year-old Abby and 3-year-old Avery.

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