Everyone has rules for establishing self-worth. Just like the need for approval forms in our early years, due to our relationship with people who are significant to us, our definition of self-worth comes from them too. Parents and educators are the main source of our thoughts about our self-worth.
Babies do not have a concept of self-worth. People around them are happy with them no matter what they do, even when the do nothing. Do you remember how many feelings of love and admiration you had for your kids when they were just babies, making sounds no one could understand, crawling like little turtles and not being able to take care of themselves? When kids are just babies, they only had to be there to get love and affection and no one judged them for not succeeding to eat by themselves, for not being able to stand up and start running or for not being able to read the Encyclopedia Britannica at the age of 5.
However, in the following years, parents, teachers, uncles, aunts, friends and others express their expectations of the young person, as well as disappointment when those expectations are not met. Little by little, the young person adopts the irrational rule for self-worth, which states:
To be worthwhile as a person, I must achieve, succeed at whatever I do and make no mistakes
You may be saying to yourself now, “Ronit, are you saying I should not expect anything from my kids if I do not want them to have this rule?”
Actually, expectations are OK, as long as they are realistic and reasonable. Let me illustrate with a little story.
A friend of mine told me that when she was in primary school, she used to stutter and no one thought she was a good student. One day, at a national comparative exam, she got the 3rd score out of hundreds of kids and was invited to receive a special achievement award at an evening event. Her mother did not come to the event, but her father had to drive her there. When they arrived, the school principal came to greet my friend and told her father he should be very proud of his daughter’ excellent results, but her father said he was not proud at all, because she only came third.
I bet you are shaking your head and thinking, “No wonder the poor girl stuttered”.
Perfectionist parents feed the self-worth rule every day, sometimes many times a day. The real problem is that perfectionist parents were once children of perfectionist parents and are critical towards themselves more than anybody else. They may not even realize they have such unrealistic and unreasonable expectations from their kids.
Here is a list of the character traits of a perfectionist. See if you exhibit any of them. We all have some desire for perfection but if we understand what is possible and what is not and accept that every experience is a learning experience, we can raise well-balanced kids who think they are worthy, even when they are not perfect.
Perfectionist traits of parents
- Feeling bad when kids do not get straight A’s in all their subjects
- Considering homework a “must”, no matter what the circumstances are
- Noticing small mistakes and imperfections in what others do or say
- Repeatedly revisiting things that have happened in the past
- Wanting to change others badly
- Frequently correcting others
- Using words like “must”, “should” and “have to” excessively
- Believing that criticism is a way to teach
- Wanting people to think you are good at everything you do
- Worrying about the future
- Fearing the unknown
- Having high standards and announcing them proudly
- Being motivated by fear of failure
- Using fear of failure to motivate others
- Not compromising with self and others – expecting all or nothing
- Feeling bad about not meeting own or other’s expectations
- Having critical self talk
If you are a parent and have some of the traits in this list, you are helping your kids establish one of the cruelest rules – the irrational rule of (low) self-worth.
Tips to overcome too high expectations
- Tell your kids when you do not (or did not) get straight A’s. Make sure they understand that tests are for the teachers to find out how good they were at teaching the topic and not how good the kids learned it.
- Homework is important, but it is very important to show kids that sleep is more important, eating is more important and some special occasions are more important than homework. Remember, if you leave the homework as the kids’ responsibility, they will learn to be responsible. When you fuss about homework, you make them think you are afraid of the teacher and that they should be too.
- When you notice a mistake or an imperfection, immediately think of something good to say. This will slowly divert your attention to what is good and wonderful about the other person. Magically, your opinion of them will improve over time.
- Hakuna Matata. Learn to put the past behind you (or, as Pumba says, “Put your behind in the past”). When you finish something and you can no longer change it, learn from it and move on. I could go over this post hundreds of times and still find things to fix, when in fact I would then miss the whole point of writing it… Learn to “NEXT!”
- If you have a need to change others, remember there are many ways to experience life and yours is not the only way. Every person is different and has reached their thoughts, beliefs and emotions by accumulating experiences from the day they were born. No two people go through the same path in life, not even twins. Whenever you want to change others, remember life would be boring if all the people in the world were the same.
- Notice when you overuse the words “must” “have to” and “should”. They represent very harsh, all-encompassing rules. In fact, people do not “have to” do anything. They can always choose. Help your children (and yourself) choose wisely by considering options and weighing pros and cons and take these words out of your dictionary.
- When you are not sure about something in the future, take a deep breath and imagine a positive outcome. If you are stressed about it, keep imagining a positive outcome. See yourself in a good future, hear yourself in it, smell the good future and feel it all over. Fear of the unknown can be beaten with imagination, because the fear comes from your imagination to begin with.
- If you want to teach, always focus on the good things. If you feel you want to criticize someone in hope they will get better, stop yourself and say something good about them. Criticism a negatively focused, while compliments are positively focused and, sadly, you need 10 compliments to overcome 1 criticism.
- When you want to motivate people, always tell them how they will benefit from doing something and not what they are going to lose if they do not do it. If you focus on a positive outcome, it will be easier to get results.
- Listen to your self-talk. Try writing it down so it will be easier for you to relate to it later. If you find that your self-talk mostly comes from your high expectations or disappointment that you or others cannot fulfill, change the sentences on paper and work on bringing up another thought when the automatic self-talk comes up. For example, if your kid does something you have an urge to criticize, and your immediate self-talk is “he can never do anything right”, change it to “he is just a kid and he is still learning” and notice how your attitude change.
Remember, if you want to have kids who believe they are worthy even if they are not perfect, you must first make sure they have a good role model.
Come back on Monday for irrational rule of living #3 – Problem Solving.
This post is part of the series Irrational Rules of Living:
- Irrational Rules of Living – External Approval
- Irrational Rules of Living – Self Worth
- Irrational Rules of Living – Problem Solving
- Irrational Rules of Living – Right and Wrong
- Irrational Rules of Living – My Way or the Highway
- Irrational Rules of Living – Disempowerment
- Irrational Rules of Living – Anxiety
- Irrational Rules of Living – Avoidance
- Irrational Rules of Living – Dependency
- Irrational Rules of Living – The Power of the Past
- Irrational Rules of Living – Sympathy
- Irrational Rules of Living – Discomfort and pain