PARENTING: How do you raise body-confident kids?

When I first became a mom I read every article I could find. I looked at tons of information, especially around emotional development, and lots of them made sense, and lots of them were confusing.

One of the confusing ones was about EQ stuff that you want to instil in your child, and it listed things like confidence, and reasons why you want these things for your children. Now it’s obvious that you want confident kids, right? But the bit that confused me was the HOW.

Until it dawned on me: you teach kids by BEING. If I want my daughter to confident, I need to be confident. Oh. And one thing I have struggled with in my own life is body confidence. I really do want my kids to value and respect their own bodies.

Now part of that is how I give them feedback. I can compliment them and focus on how strong and clever their bodies are, how good their bodies are at healing themselves and at learning new things. That’s easy. If I focus on whether they are getting fat/too tall/too freckled, of course I’m going to create a kind of focus that I don’t want, and I want to focus on health. I also believe that everyone has beauty inherent in their own humanity. And we live in a world that is aware of appearance.

But I can’t really teach them to value themselves unless I value me. I can’t remember a time when I thought my mother was OK with how she looked. But the thing about my perception of my mom was this: I didn’t compare her to anyone else. She looked like my mom. When you’re little especially, your special people are your world and there’s beauty in that that has absolutely nothing to do with magazines and expectations. It was important to me that she looked like HER. I want my kids to want to look like THEMSELVES.

So for me to be beautiful to my kids I only need to look like ME. Not skinny. Not perfect. Not unwrinkled. ME. For them to feel good about looking like THEMSELVES I need to give myself permission to look like ME as I do right now.

I cannot remember my mother ever complimenting herself. This is something I’m trying to create for myself and my kids. It’s ok to say “I really like my hair like this”, or “my body feels so good after exercising” or “I love my soft tummy” and mean it. And as a parent, your own choices around health will absolutely create how your kids engage with it. If you’re eating a hundred chocolates a day, they will want to too. You can’t expect kids to make sensible choices around sweets and junk food, so you have to. Which is hard! There’s a balance between permissive and restrictive where things are allowed in moderation, in a way that works for you and your family.

Again, as I’ve said in previous articles, acceptance doesn’t mean never changing: making kind and healthy choices for your body means that you may need to lose some weight or move more, but that doesn’t mean you need to hate yourself along the journey. And it will show your kids that they can accept their own physical journeys too.

Author: Joce©Psych in a Box


Self acceptance and the Inner Bitch: 4 ways to feel better

It’s a well known cliche that you cannot love others unless you love yourself. I’m not entirely sure about that one, but what I would like to add to that is that it’s incredibly difficult to accept love from others unless you can see yourself as lovable. How you frame your relationship with You is very important. Your relationship with yourself is the one relationship you will have access to every day of your life.

And it’s difficult to be friendly with yourself when you’re feeling bad. You may feel angry with yourself for experiencing pain or being sad. You may be regretful or guilty about decisions you’ve made. And all those feelings are acceptable and can be dealt with, but it’s really important to remember that YOU CANNOT HATE YOURSELF BETTER.

You can’t hate yourself into thinness, or happiness, or social comfort, or intelligence, or a higher salary, any more than you can beat a child into stopping crying. In fact hating yourself can only take an already crappy situation and make it feel ten times worse. In your times of need, you have most need of yourself. If you don’t value and support You, it is very difficult to accept support from others, because you feel so undeserving, and often almost ashamed of your need for support. Also, if you feel undeserving and devalue yourself, the people around you will pick up on that in a thousand unconscious, subtle ways and they will reflect that back to you. In short, if you believe that you are a fool, you will communicate that unknowingly all the time and people will respond to you as if you were a fool.

Acceptance means understanding and being OK with what it means to be human. You ARE human. You cannot deny this: there you sit, right now, in your chair, being human. And thing about being human is that we are imperfect. To accept that you are human is to accept that you are fallible.

Self acceptance does not mean choosing some of your (doubtless many) good attributes or behaviours and being proud of them. You’re completely allowed to be proud of your dancing prowess, or your skill at work, or your ability to bake perfect cookies, but there will inevitably come a day when you don’t dance well, or when you make a mistake at work, or when the baking goes all pear-shaped; and what then? Does that mean you can no longer feel affection for yourself?

Self acceptance also doesn’t mean that you never change or grow. We are by nature designed to grow and to want more: it’s why little babies learn to walk. But reaching for something from a place of gentle acceptance of what IS allows for a much kinder journey.

Oftentimes our inner dialogue reflects the worst of the parenting or guidance we have received: your inner voice reflects the fear and anxieties about imperfections that you may have grown up with, at school or from peers or teachers or often from parents. Sometimes it’s directly related to how we were spoken to as kids, and how we heard our parents speak about themselves. We grow an Inner Bitch, always ready to point out our flaws in graphic detail. It’s as if by giving attention to flaws and mistakes we can magically change them. It’s time to parent yourself differently: soothe, encourage and support the changes you want to make, don’t let yourself off the hook of putting in work that needs to be done, but always accept your humanness. (Parenthetically how you talk to you own kids is important for the same reason, as is how your kids see you treating yourself).

Self acceptance means that you give yourself permission to be YOU, warts and all. If your bum is too fat, embrace the bum-ness of it. If your nose if too big, it’s ok because it looks like YOUR nose. One of my patients once said, “Superwoman is dead. She tried to do everything.” Aspiring toward improvement is one thing; internally killing yourself because you are (unavoidably) imperfect is another. Have you ever hated anyone else because they had a big nose? Probably not. So why hate you?

This isn’t an easy habit to cultivate though. Here are some tricks to help you along the way.

  1. Check your self talk. If you come down on yourself like a ton of bricks every time something goes wrong or you spot a little imperfection, that will crash your mood. Rule of thumb: you’re not allowed to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t to a friend or to a child. If you wouldn’t call your friend an idiot after a mistake at work, you can’t call yourself that. Be kind and supportive and encouraging.
  2. When you spot a mean bit of inner dialogue, disagree with your Inner Bitch: No, I’m not an idiot. I’m HUMAN. The thing about this statement is that it’s irrefutable: you ARE human. no part of you can deny that. And with human comes fallible.
  3. Stop adding any disclaimers when you talk to other people: no more “this may be a stupid question”, or “sorry to ask, but…” or “I may sound crazy, but…” Stop presupposing your own lack of worth. Your inner self is always listening. Don’t put you down. It hurts.
  4. Stop complaining about yourself. If you’re not thin enough, fast enough, pretty enough, efficient enough, happy enough etc etc etc you surely won’t get there by focusing constantly on your flaws. If the story goes “I’m not good enough” , change it to “I’m human, and I’m doing my best” or “I’m going to change this lovingly and kindly”. As a kid, you responded much better to encouragement that to cruelty, right? Why should grown-up You be any different?

Author: Joce©Psych in a Box

ANXIETY: Comforting the internal child

One thing I realise I talk about nearly every day in therapy is anxiety. It’s a way more common challenge than one may imagine, mainly because we are all born with the capacity to feel anxious, and with good reason. Anxiety is the feeling that motivates you to study for a test, or cross the road briskly and alertly, or run from a threat. It becomes a problem when it starts to run away with you: sometimes your brain misidentifies small or moderate threats as huge ones, and causes you to respond with a full scale body reaction to something as small as a missed meeting or some else’s dirty look.

It’s a very wide topic and I’m sure I’ll come back to it many times, but today I want to share a metaphor I’ve used in therapy lots of times: your anxiety is like a 5 year old in you who is afraid of the dark. And how do you respond to a frightened child? You don’t smack her or yell at her for being afraid. You’re doing this to yourself if you berate yourself for being ‘silly’ or ‘ridiculous’ for having worries. You also don’t agree with her: “Oh my lord you’re right! the monsters are coming!” You do this to yourself when you allow your thoughts to focus on ever-more terrifying scenarios, working the fear ever upwards toward panic, telling yourself horror stories. You soothe her.

You allow and accept the fact that there is fear, without ridicule (we are hardwired to look for threat – the caveman who ran away from the predator lived longer than the one who didn’t). And you gently encourage and soothe. You have kind conversations with yourself along the lines of “It’s going to be OK. This has happened many times before and it’s not so bad. It’s survivable. It will pass.” It’s also often useful to substitute the frightened child’s anticipation of a dire outcome with envisioning a positive one. Ask yourself questions like “How could this work out well?” or “What if it’s all going to be OK?” to allow the child to start envisioning a better and more soothing ending to the story. We are often consciously or unconsciously asking ourselves how things could go wrong, and the creative 5 year old comes up with many colourful (and terrifying) scenarios.

This takes some practice – we often have very strong self critical parts that stubbornly resist kindness and it takes a while to become accustomed to soothing. But in all things it’s more comforting to be your own friend than not! You will look at your own face in the mirror every day – it’s much nicer if you’re friends.

Author: Joce©Psych in a Box

Giving yourself Away

How many roles do you fulfil every day? How many times do you feel that you are so busy tending to others’ needs that you don’t have time for your own? How often do you take the time to do the things that you WANT to do, rather than simply the things you SHOULD do?

I see a lot of burn out in my practice. I see moms whose “me-time” is work, because they feel guilty being away from their kids. I see parents who work 12 hour days, even though they’re contracted for 8-10 hours of work a day. (Think of it like this: at work you trade your time for money. If you get R800 a day for working an 8 hour day, that’s R100 an hour. If you habitually work 16 hour days you’re now earning R50 an hour – you have halved your own hourly income). So often there is a sense that YOU are not allowed to be happy or take care of yourself until EVERYONE ELSE is happy first. Except that you don’t have the power to make everyone happy. They will NEVER all be happy. And so, by that logic, neither will you.

For giving to feel sustainable, meet your needs first. Then, once your needs have been met, THEN you can comfortably offer yourself to others. Not the other way round. Is your time valuable? Because if you don’t value your own time, no one else will. The world will always demand too much. The boundaries need to come from you.

And brains need contrast: we need times of work and times of rest, and if you’re on the work treadmill all day it’s easy to come home and continue to sprint along, project-managing your home life too – homework, bath time, dinner time, bed time. Then you wake up and start again.

We all need to build in times of rest. Here are a few ways to derail the production line of life:

  • Take at least 15 minutes for yourself between work and home. Gift yourself 15 minutes of rest, sitting still, drinking a cup of tea or a cold water, to allow your mind to shift gears. You can sit at a coffee shop, or the office pause area, or in your garden, or even your car. The trick is that for those few minutes you are inaccessible. Breathe, relax, unwind.
  • Take lunch at the office. Even if you can’t do the full hour, at least 15 minutes will break up the day into 2 parts – it’s the difference between reading a page full of edge-to-edge writing, and reading paragraphs. Eat away from your desk and computer, and focus on the taste and texture of your food. Your body needs nourishment and your brain needs rest.
  • Revisit hobbies or activities YOU have enjoyed in the past, or try some new ones. You are allowed times of enjoyment. If you’re constantly giving energy out without taking in anything nourishing, you begin to feel like an overdrawn bank account. You need to start investing time and energy in yourself. You wouldn’t drive a car with no petrol! If you yourself never feel nourished, you WILL begin to feel resentful – you can’t help it, and that’s a horrible emotional reality to sit with!
  • Watch your self talk. If you’re constantly putting yourself down or calling yourself names, others will pick up on your subtle self denigration and they will mirror your treatment of yourself. On this note, AVOID DISCLAIMERS: if you preface a statement with “this may sound stupid”, for example, I’ll expect stupid. If you just claim your space and make your statement as if you had a right to, I will respect your right, even if I disagree with you. It’s MY job to voice my disagreement, not YOUR job to pre-empt it.
  • Deliberately acknowledge your successes. So often we expect 100 percent of ourselves, and yet when we achieve it we simply raise the bar. This is in stark contrast with how we react when we make a mistake: we obsess, or beat ourselves up, even when the mistake is small. We will ALL make mistakes: with “human” comes “fallible”. Forgive and move on, but RECOGNISE your own successes, in whichever way works best for you. Be your own best friend.
  • Work on ways to say no. Saying yes to everything is exhausting; give yourself permission to put yourself first sometimes. This is so difficult to learn in a society that teaches “it is better to give than to receive”. In fact, both need to be in balance. You cannot expect to give endlessly if you put nothing back. It’s like the oxygen masks in an airplane: put yours on first . Then help the people around you.
  • Move your body, even if it’s just to go for a brief walk. Go outside, get out in some sunshine. Go somewhere new; life on a treadmill of Duty is boring, and you need newness and exploration as well as routine.

First and foremost in all things is your relationship with YOU. Nourish it as you would nourish your connection with a loved one. You’re not allowed to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend!

Author: Joce©Psych in a Box