Fostering a Healthy Self in Children

Parenting:  Feeding the Healthy Ego

      We’ve all known folks who seem have too much ego.  They appear to feel entitled to do and have anything they want and lack the capacity for self-criticism.  They can be pretty obnoxious.  In their self-indulgent quest for gratification they seem to lack respect for anyone, even themselves.

This is most often a compensation for the lack of a strong and healthy sense of self.  Expecting the world to deprive them of recognition and satisfaction, they adopt a smash and grab policy.  In the extreme we refer to them as psychopaths and lock them up to protect ourselves.

Another way to express a weak ego is the so-called codependent pattern.  Lacking a healthy self, the individual borrows self from others.  The ideas and feelings are those of others or are in reaction to those of others.  They don’t trust themselves enough to think their own thoughts.

The life lived by the codependent is one of reaction, not action.  The person is attached, dependent on another in an unhealthy manner.  The result is usually frustration, depression and a sense of emptiness.

Parents and caregivers can do much to help children develop a healthy self.  It’s not necessary or helpful to praise every little thing, although significant accomplishments certainly should be acknowledged and celebrated.

More useful is a posture of respect and appreciation of the child’s uniqueness.  This is best communicated through attentive and nonjudgmental listening.  By expressing her thoughts, feelings, opinions, desires and dreams to someone who listens respectfully, a child learns that she is someone worthy of respect.

By having his words taken seriously by someone he loves and respects, a child learns that his thoughts are valid, even if not always correct.  The skilled parent or teacher will ask questions that help a child to explore his own thoughts.

Given an opportunity, children will learn to correct themselves without over-correcting.  They will learn to respect themselves and others and will not need to adopt a ruthless and selfish or a dependent and selfless identity.

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