Children are impressionable. The narratives that they tell themselves are likely to determine their self-belief hence actions. 

If you have read The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill, you would have heard about the story of how he had instilled so much confidence in his youngest son that his child grew up thinking he would be successful. Never once did he ever show pity to his son who was born with a physical disability.

Your children will become what you feed them, at least for the early parts of their adulthood. 

If you have read part 1 of this post here, you would know that I grew up with my mum telling me how undesirable and unattractive I was. I cringed as I thought about how these derogatory ideas undermined my confidence while growing up. From 18 to 25-year-old, I was living in the shadow of my mum’s insults. I used to think so little about myself, especially my physical appearances which I thought were not within my control to alter. 

Perhaps my mum had never felt attractive herself which led to the manifestation of the insults. In her defense, when I confronted her at 30-year-old, she said that she told me those “hard truths” so that I would not be too picky and haughty when picking a mate. She also said that those were her honest opinions when she compared me to her sisters’ daughters. 

If I could decide how I wanted my mum to bring me up, I would have told her not to make any comments about my looks. Unfortunately, a child would never be able to discern what is right or wrong, good or bad. 

How did I walk out of all these negative self-image issues?

I would credit my healing process to the following 2 Factors:

1. Reading Books

The habit of reading had helped me become a better writer. Through reading and writing, they shed light on the darker side of my childhood and helped me come to terms with my experiences. I am compiling a long list of 10 books that had left an inedible impact on my twenties. I hope I will be able to share it soon. 

2. Positive friendships 

I have a pretty strong support system and I am thankful to all my friends who have developed a solid friendship with me. My friends can be brutally honest with me and they often point out blind spots that I would miss. If a friend had never told me that I have self-esteem issues when I was 20-year-old, I would not even be aware of this negative thought pattern. If another friend had never shared with me that her mum thinks that she is not pretty enough (when I thought she was really pretty), I would never have figured out that our mums could be crazy when I was 25-year-old. Therefore, surrounding myself with friends that genuinely love and care for me was one of the wisest things I did for myself. 

How did walking out of my mum’s insults help me to suss out derogatory phrases?

Armed with this daunting personal experience, I have an internal compass to suss out harsh words or phrases. Whenever I sensed that parents were crossing the threshold, I would do my best to point it out tactfully to them.

I attended a Parent-Teacher Conference (PTC) together with one of my students and her mum at the end of her Grade 4 school year this year in 2021. My student is 9-year-old and she attends a Candanian International School based in Singapore.  I have been coaching her Math since she was 7-year-old in Grade 2. 

During the PTC, her homeroom teacher gave jarring feedback in contrast to all the positive affirmations that I have been conveying to the mum about her daughter’s Math competency level.

At the end of the PTC, the mum was flabbergasted and doubting, to a certain extent, everything that I had previously told her.  In the heat of the moment (望女心切), she blurted out several times that “My daughter has to be perfect”. This statement shook the internal harshness radar in me and over the week, I thought hard about how to diplomatically convince the mum that “My daughter has to be perfect.” is too onerous a statement on a child.

Fortunately (I guess this was the only time I ever felt glad), I was able to use my own experiences with my mum to illustrate how her words are going to sear her daughter’s confidence and self-worth. Drawing from the narratives I concocted for myself and lessons learned while growing up,  I have done a Parallel Analysis to help parents to understand how they can be KIND and CONSTRUCTIVE with their words below:

 

The Impact of My Mum’s Harsh Words about my appearances. How they taught me to help children believe in themselves?
I am ugly. My features are not pronounced. I do not have an attractive face.

I thought it was beyond my control to alter my looks. Therefore, I gave up on self-grooming entirely while growing up.

I would never think or make statements like “You are inadequate, stupid, useless, an underachiever” to a child.

We should NEVER ever make a child feel he or she is incapable to change or improve.

My mum said I was fat. At least, I could change this and I did by exercising regularly. This habit shaped me into a more disciplined and hardworking person.

Therefore, I am thankful to my mum for reminding me not to excessively indulge in food and to keep fit.

Bad habits like laziness can be changed.

Therefore, if a child does not meet my diligence’s bar, I will certainly convey it by showing him or her concrete evidence of the homework completed by my other more illustrious students.

I finally understood that Beauty is subjective. Similarly, I believe that Intelligence is subjective.

 

When I made myself vulnerable, parents were more willing to listen and were less likely to be offended. I suggested to the mum to use the phrase “My daughter has to try her best.” instead. The mum saw how earnest I was when I shared my story and eventually, she was convinced. 

I would like to leave you with a quote that aptly describes my coming to terms with this dark part of my childhood. 

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

I hope my story has got you thinking about how you could be KIND, GENTLE, AFFIRMATIVE, and CONSTRUCTIVE when you communicate with your child or children. I will also be curious if you have any personal experiences that may bring more insight to this topic. Do leave your comments below.

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