Supporting Your Child’s Self-Worth: A Daily Practice of Acceptance

Acceptance is one of the most important gifts you can give as a parent. How your child perceives themselves is intricately mapped onto the ways they see themselves through your eyes. This is how they begin to develop a sense of self-worth. It’s not simply about expressing feelings of affection – though that is wonderful to do –  it’s about actively demonstrating your love and embracing your child’s uniqueness on a daily basis.

The Power of Radical Acceptance

Letting your child be their true selves starts with radical acceptance – the art of wholeheartedly embracing your child’s individuality, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Imagine a child who feels safe to express themselves fully, even in the middle of a meltdown. This involves giving up notions of who you wish they were and fully embracing the little person that they are in the present moment. While this means you might have to put aside your regrets about the past or anxieties about the future, the rewards for your parent-child relationship are totally worth it!

But let me be clear: accepting your child doesn’t mean approving everything they do, it just means letting go of the fight against reality. It’s about acknowledging them just as they are, a whole person doing their best with their current skills and in their current environment. By accepting them, you build a strong connection based on empathy instead of criticism. Ultimately, radical acceptance allows your child to feel loved and valued, no matter what.

Everyday Actions to Nurture Your Child’s Inner Strength

Here are some key ways to transform radical acceptance into everyday actions that nurture your child’s self-worth:

Validate Your Child’s Emotions: When your child is grappling with overwhelming emotions, stay calm and validate their feelings. This looks like reflecting back to them what you hear them saying and adding in the feelings that you’re guessing they’re experiencing given what they’ve said. You might feel tempted to dole out solutions to their problems – but resist this urge for a bit. Ask your child if they want help, if they just want you to hear them out, or if they want a hug or some other kind of connection. The important thing is that when your child brings you their challenging emotions, that you welcome them coming to you and simply offer your presence with their big feelings. 

The Magic of Quality Time & Letting Go

Prioritize Quality Time with Your Child: In the hustle of daily parental responsibilities, you might overlook the importance of slowing down and connecting with your child in the present moment. Consider trying out two different kinds of quality time. 

Magda Gerber, the creator of the R.I.E. parenting approach suggests what’s called “wants nothing quality time” This looks like setting aside five to ten minutes daily to observe your child playing independently, without distractions, an agenda, or any requests from you. Simply focus on your child, observing their interests, themes of play, creativity, challenges, and moments of pride. Engage with them only if invited, allowing space for their autonomy and fostering genuine connection. This simple act communicates genuine interest and nurtures their sense of self-acceptance.

Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand Parenting suggests what she calls “special time”. These are time-bound and dedicated moments each day or each week or just occasionally for uninterrupted 1-to-1 play, driven entirely by your child’s preferences. Set a timer for 5 minutes to an hour, and completely immerse yourself fully in your child’s chosen activities (you choose the when and where, your child chooses the how). During this time, don’t give advice, don’t criticize, don’t modify the play (unless safety is an issue) and don’t allow yourself to become distracted. This deliberate investment in their play strengthens your connection, fills their emotional cup and underscores your appreciation for their unique interests. 

The Gift of Unconditional Acceptance

Embrace Your Child’s Authenticity: When your child freely expresses their authentic, messy self with you – the person they trust the most – they feel embraced and cherished. Recall moments from your own childhood when you were nudged to (or forced to) conform to adult expectations, and to put your own desires away. Now, consider your reaction when your child’s actions stir a desire to alter their behavior. Unless it impacts health, safety, or respect for personal boundaries, can you try to accept their actions? Give yourself time to simply observe before intervening. Can you brainstorm solutions that honor your needs and your child’s needs as well?

Foster Your Child’s Independence: Let your child explore their world! Instead of constantly correcting or teaching them, give them space to be creative and solve problems autonomously. Let them experiment with toys and use their imagination. As they learn to talk, read, and write, be patient with their pronunciations and misspelled words. Offer encouragement when they face challenges, but hold off on swooping in with solutions unless they get truly frustrated. Witnessing their own accomplishments will boost their confidence and self-worth. You provide the stimulating experiences, and let them choose their level of participation. Resist pushing them to do things they’re not yet ready to do. They’ll take the next step when they’re ready.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Your child’s self-worth is constantly in development, and the journey toward accepting them unconditionally is ongoing as well – you’ll always have to make efforts at it. But it’s the most precious gift you can give them – the implicit knowing that they have value and worth to you. This is what lays the foundation for your child seeing themselves as having value and worth in the world – even when you’re not standing there next to them.

Another way to build your child’s self-worth is to repair with your child after conflicts!

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