I don’t think I have every met a parent that hasn’t wished there was some sort of manual that we could all refer to from time to time (or a daily basis perhaps). We would all be so much more well rested, happy and patient if we had answers to all of our parenting questions and woes, am I right?
I have shared before on the blog, Ella’s story. I have also shared snippets of her progress on instagram from time to time as well. The short story, Ella is a 10.5 year old girl who has dealt with anxiety for the last several years. We (mainly Ella but Ryan and I attend with her) see a therapist once or twice a month for her anxiety. I must say that it has been so helpful for all of us. We had to push hard to get any sort of treatment because we were told numerous times “she will grow out of it” but as a parent you just know. We felt it was important to start treating her anxiety (and we worry, depression) now, that way she can grow up with coping mechanisms!
Ryan and I haven’t had to deal with anxiety personally so it is a struggle for us to learn how to help Ella through it sometimes. I’m not going to lie, it’s so easy to quickly say OMG you’re fine, Ella but we know that’s now what she needs, and it certainly doesn’t help. We’ve learned some really great coping mechanisms for her and us, but there are days where we feel helpless! There have been plenty of times where I have had to walk away because I am so frustrated, or we have raised our voices at her out of frustration. Not our proudest moments as parents, but it’s all a learning process for us. There have been a lot of tears shed by both Ella (and me), but lots of hugs, deep breathing and praying. Navigating the tween waters is rough, but adding in anxiety makes it even more challenging for us!
If you follow me on instagram, you may have seen the other day that Ella told me at bedtime, and through tears, that when she looks down, she doesn’t like that her belly sticks out. Talk about a blow! It caught me so off guard, and was a moment that I have dreaded as a parent. I will say, one of the reasons I was so surprised and shocked is that she is only 10. I don’t remember having these feelings at that age-I feel like it was jr. high when I started to feel like that. She is also in the 21st precentile for her height and weight, so she is tiny. But that just proves that anyone no matter their size can have these feelings. Also, despite my awful relationship with my own self image and body, one thing that I have always been so good at and 100% conscious of is never putting myself down in front of my girls! To them, I have always been the most confident woman. Another thing I feel I have always been conscious of is not just focusing on their appearance but also their qualities-kindness, caring, etc.
But what do I say? How do I respond to her? In what seemed like an eternity, and I swear I blacked out (lol), I came up with what I thought was an ok answer. One that helped ease her concerns but also opened it up to future discussions, and most definitely the feeling of comfort in coming to me. I was so thankful that she felt comfortable enough to talk to me about what she was feeling. I must be doing something right, right?!
First-I told her that it’s normal (unfortunately) to feel that way. Every woman has had one or more of those kinds of thoughts in their lifetime. I have never shared my whole story and journey with Ella before, mainly because I always felt she was too young, and it wasn’t necessary, but ultimately I thought now was as good of a time as any! I went on to tell her a little bit (not every single detail) about me and my struggles over the last several years (decades). While I didn’t want to pull back the curtain on my sometimes fake confidence, I did think it was more important to be honest than anything.
In a nutshell (because bedtime!), I told her that I have struggled with my self esteem and confidence for quite a long time, basically since I became a teenager. I went on to explain how many things I missed out on growing up, throughout adulthood, and even as a parent, because I was too worried about what I looked like, how I felt about myself, etc. Being too concerned with what I looked like, what other people (ie: strangers or people who weren’t an important part of my life) thought of me was exhausting, both mentally and physically. There were so many time I wasn’t able to fully enjoy myself because I focused too much on what I thought I lacked instead of what made me awesome.
Was she following? Did she understand? Yes and no. I think that she understood to an extent. She asked some questions (mainly wanted concrete examples-she’s a fact based person through and through). I mainly gave examples of not wanting to swim because of being worried how I looked in my bathing suit, honestly. I didn’t want to focus too much on my awful relationship with food-I didn’t want to draw attention to that at all. She already has a weird relationship with food (sensory processing which we believe she has since grown out of, but anxiety over trying new foods, hence she doesn’t eat much) so I didn’t want to risk adding anything that could make it worse.
What I shared next with her, I think actually sunk in-as much as it can for a 10.5 year old. Will she always remember and believe? Maybe not, but I am glad she is hearing at her age, what I wish I would have told myself and believed decades ago. I talked about Ryan and my close friends-“would Daddy love me any more or less if my stomach was smaller? My thighs didn’t touch or if my hair were longer? Most likely no. Would you love me any less as your Mommy if I was thinner or bigger? Most likely no.” I shared that what I love most about my friends is their kindness, willingness to listen, laugh with me, cry with me, and not how big their stomach is, or what size they wear (hellooooo #morethanasize). And you know what, Ella? Chances are your best friend only cares about those same things.
So what’s our gameplan?
First up is this amazing daily gratitude journal that a sweet follower let me know about. How perfect and fitting is it? Positive affirmations, daily goals, strengths. Plus, it is something that we can do together. They say “what you focus on, grows” and that couldn’t be more true. I have said so many times before that I have faked confidence so much in front of my girls that I started to believe what I was saying! I can’t wait for us to get started on this!
Second, I have researched some great devotionals for us to read (some of them recommended by you-thank you!). We read a devotional every day with her, and we talk a lot about talking to Jesus to help her through her anxiety/feelings/worries. This is an easy addition for us and our bedtime routine, and another way she can learn to rely on Jesus.
We chatted about it with her therapist, and it made me feel good that her therapist didn’t make a huge deal about it. She 100% took it seriously, and we talked through it with Ella, but it was so comforting to see her be so calm about it. One of the things that we have talked about with Ella in her therapy sessions is to say to herself “eh, you’ll have that!” when she has bad feelings, or feels like her anxiety is creeping up. We sort of describe those negative thoughts as an annoying feeling sitting on her shoulder that she can sort of flick off and say “eh, you’ll have that!” and do your best to move on. I think it is so perfect and age appropriate!
I also just want to keep the dialogue open with her and encourage her to always come to me no matter what the feelings! Having her come to me initially is a great start and one I am so thankful for! I also just want to continue being a great example for her and Charlotte. It is something I work so hard at, and it isn’t always easy but I just keep moving forward!
What are some things you have found to be helpful when chatting with your tween about self esteem/ body positivity/self love?
**also, I should note that I am not a professional at anything, in fact, quite the amateur, so what works for us might not work for you.