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6 Tips to Develop your Teens Strong Sense of Self

  1. Allowing them to choose and try new things EVERY DAY

As parents when our children are young we are used to guiding them, giving them information and making suggestions, but is this the best way for them to learn?

Do we give them enough opportunities to choose, explore and try things for themselves?

Giving them the opportunity to explore and try things has so many benefits – it is the essential ingredient to their development of self

  • They learn about themselves – what they like, what they don’t like, how they respond in different situations, how else to respond – it is the exploring of themselves in their environment that develops their sense of self

  • It teaches them that there are consequences to every choice, this develops their sense of personal responsibility

  • It makes them feel powerful and valuable. When we get to choose, we feel seen and heard

  • It builds their courage to move into the unknown – the more they do this the easier it becomes for them to be comfortable in the unknown

It often serves us not to give them this opportunity

  • It takes longer

  • It gives us more work to manage their mistakes

  • It moves us out of our comfort zones

  • We feel important and in control when they do it our way

If we as parents focus on the end goal, which is the development of their sense of self rather than the situation in the moment, we will get the ultimate fulfillment of a happy, resourceful adult. To do this, it is important to understand ourselves and be aware of what we are getting or want to get from each interaction so that we can satisfy this regardless of the choices our child or teenager makes.

2. Recognise your Child’s/Teenager’s Individuality

Do you think you know what is best for your child or teenager? Sometimes we do have more experience and insights than they do, but giving them the opportunity to follow their own dreams and make mistakes is all part of their development of self. Sometimes we have an idea of what we would like them to do, what sport we would like them to play, what career they should choose or what interests they should have, but trying to influence them to follow what we believe is right for them can cause confusion in self within them. It causes them to start to make decisions based on what others want and this stops them from developing what is true to them and what will make them happy and fulfilled in life

  • Your children won’t have the same dreams you have. They won’t achieve their dreams the way you would. Encourage them to go for what THEY want and find their own ways to get there

Why do we want them to do it our way?

It is often OUR needs or what we never had that causes us to parent or direct our children and teenagers the way we do

  • We never had the opportunity when we were young

  • Our parents weren’t there to help us when we needed it

  • Our mistakes were painful and we don’t want our children to go through that pain

When we understand our own needs and find ways to meet those needs through what we do for ourselves, rather than through the way we parent, we are able to give our children and teenagers the freedom to express all of who they are which will result in the full development of self. Making mistakes and the pain attached is all part of developing ourselves, it shows us who we are and what we are capable of. There will always be challenges and the best way to love our children and teenagers is to allow them to make these mistakes and feel the pain and BE THERE FOR THEM during this process.

3. Acknowledge Natural Abilities

Everyone in the world is naturally good at something, whether it be physically, mentally, socially or emotionally. There are many different categories of skills and abilities, with even more subcategories. Societal expectations have led people to believe that only certain natural abilities are worth recognition; being the top sportsman, academic or musician for example. Your teenager may not be any of these things but they certainly have something to offer the world and it is our job to help their find their natural ability and to be proud of it. Some abilities, talents or skills cannot be recognized through direct praise and reward. Perhaps your teen has a natural ability to be kind and compassionate; something you don’t often get outward recognition for. It is incredibly important to acknowledge your child’s natural abilities no matter how small they may seem; whether it is in sandwich making or playing for the South African netball team.

By praising and acknowledging even the little efforts we foster self-motivation in our children. Creating a sense of pleasure, and pride. To feel good about ourselves and what we can achieve. Self-motivation results in;

  • Increased perseverance: Sticking with things for longer without giving up.

  • Creating a sense of control over what they are doing and related challenges; “I can do this”.

  • Positive reinforcement of behaviour.

  • Better mental health and wellbeing.

4. Avoid Comparison

Teenagehood is like being in a giant fishbowl where everyone is watching your every move. Teens are already acutely aware of the audience around them despite, the fact that the audience is often imagined. Teenagers are often caught up in comparing themselves to others and can become highly sensitive to who they are in relation to everyone around them.

Social media plays an increasingly significant role; with a continual platform on which to place concrete value on a person’s identity. How I feel about myself is determined by the number ‘likes’ I get on my facebook page.

Parents can serve as a voice of reason, a reminder of their individual identity. Comparison is often a natural way to ascertain your child’s performance or to provide an example or benchmark of expected behaviour. We have all done it at some point in our lives and it is nothing to be ashamed of, however, we all need to realize that these verbal statements add to an already developing sensitivity toward social opinion and judgement. We don’t want to further exacerbate the competitive mindset to perform, behave, dress and live like others and…if we don’t, we are not good enough.

The bottom line. No two people are the same. They have different and unique talents, interests, strengths and developmental rate. Instead of comparison try the following:

  • Appreciate effort made and then set a reasonable benchmark. Eg: I can see you really tried your best on this test. What do you think you can get next time?

  • Encourage coping with weakness by providing support and asking if they need help.

  • Praise strengths

  • Be realistic in your expectations based on their aptitude, abilities, strengths and interest

  • Provide unconditional love and support no matter the outcome.

5. Insist on Accountability

Hold your children accountable even when it is uncomfortable for you or causes conflict. Accountability within them forms the base of their confidence and sense of self

Often our needs as parents get in the way of holding them accountable

  • We are tired from our day and don’t have the energy to be firm

  • We want a happy home where no one is upset

  • It is easier to ignore because we have other things to do

It is so important to take care of ourselves and our own schedules so that we can be present for our children and teens and have the energy and insight hold them accountable every time.

6. Fostering Self Love

In today’s world, we increasingly seem to do things or behave a certain way in order to gain the approval and love of others. But what about us? How often do you do something for your own approval and love? What would happen if we stopped judging ourselves? If we did a little more for ourselves? I have always said that “if we do not know how to love ourselves, we are not able to love others”. If we do not fill continually fill up our own love tank, we will run out of love to give others. It is funny that we understand this concept when it comes to filling up our cars with petrol but not about filling ourselves up with self-love, self-worth and compassion. When we are depleted of these things we find ourselves in a place of cynicism, criticism and judgement.

A researcher, Kristin Neff (http://self-compassion.org/) states that self-compassion – treating yourself with kindness, openness, and acceptance is a healthy alternative to the incessant striving and performance orientation. Teenagers with higher self-compassion demonstrated greater well-being because they were okay with their flaws. They could acknowledge that they struggled… just like everyone else. We make mistakes, we are human, and we not alone. Self-compassion allows us to treat ourselves with the same kindness we would extend to a friend. Here are some exercises that Kristin Neff suggests to foster self-compassion not only in your teen but yourself as well.

  • How would you treat a friend? Responding to yourself the say way you would typically respond to a friend.

  • Write a letter to yourself about the issue at hand from a place of acceptance and compassion

  • Change self-critical talk. Recognize your self-critical voice and reframe its observations in a friendly way.

  • Identify what you really want. Love is more powerful than fear. We all really want love.

Self-care. Taking time to do something for yourself that really makes you feel good is important. It can be as simple as a warm bubble bath or taking time for a quiet cup of coffee at your favourite bakery. Do something for YOU!

Co-written by Lauren Dace (Educational Psychologist) and Gail Friend (Family Relationship Coach)

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