I have a birthmark that covers a quarter of my back (clinically known as nevus of Ito). Growing up, I was insecure about it — mostly because I didn’t see anyone around me with a similar mark. I felt self-conscious and wouldn’t wear tops or dresses that exposed it. For my prom, I had the makeup artist conceal my mark with foundation because I wanted to look and feel absolutely beautiful that night. I’ve since realized that no one should be so insecure that they cover up a part of who they are.
Learning to accept myself for who I was and how I looked was challenging. As a child, I didn’t come across any children’s books with characters who looked like me, addressing the insecurities I faced. Now that I have gotten over my insecurity, I can look back and see that representation matters, and it’s important for kids to see themselves reflected in the content they consume. My experiences inspired me to write I Am Unique!, a story about a little girl named Erin, who has a birthmark on her face and a passion for acting. She wants to try out for the leading role in her school’s play, but when her best friend questions whether or not she’d be good for the role due to her birthmark, she has to decide if she’s going to let a perceived flaw get in the way of her dream. My hope is that this story inspires children to embrace their uniqueness starting at an early age.
The story of I Am Unique! lives within all of us. Whether it’s a birthmark like Erin’s or something others can’t physically see, we all have attributes that can trigger insecurities. We live in a time where media has an overwhelming influence on our perceptions of beauty, esteem, and success. We have to be sure that kids are reminded to love themselves enough to be who they truly are. It wasn’t until college that I got over my birthmark insecurity. Prior to that, I felt alone in my struggle. I can only imagine how kids today must feel with the constant messaging from social media, peers, television, etc.
Dove’s Self-Esteem Fund commissioned a study that revealed some interesting insights:
- 62% of all girls feel insecure or not sure of themselves.
- 57% of all girls have a mother who criticizes her own looks.
- The top wish among all girls is for their parents to communicate better with them, which includes more frequent and open conversations about what is happening in their own lives.
And girls aren’t the only ones who struggle with insecurities, boys do too. One study found that:
33% to 35% of boys age 6 to 8 indicate their ideal body is thinner than their current body.Children’s perception of their mothers’ body dissatisfaction predicted children’s own dissatisfaction in boys and girls age 5 to 8.Moreover, body dissatisfaction has the potential to feed into other negative self-appraisals that affect children’s wellness and success across multiple life domains.
So, how can we improve these statistics? Here are three things parents can do RIGHT NOW to encourage children to love themselves, just as they are:
1. Pay attention to what your child is drawn to.
A part of self-love is knowing why you’ve been placed on this Earth. Everyone was born with a gift – something that is unique to them that no one else can replicate. Children might not be able to articulate what their natural talents are, so it’s up to you as their parent to help them navigate as they discover their purpose. The best way to do this is to introduce them to different activities and observe what they naturally gravitate toward. Do they love to paint? Get them paint brushes, a blank pad of paper, and a paint set. There are also a number of play spaces that offer art classes as part of their programming. Are they always challenging you to a game of Horse? Keep playing and practicing with them, and sign them up for a local team. Many parks offer camps through their community centers. It starts at home, and having parents encouraging and working to help grow these passions is important. I remember exhibiting my writing gifts at a young age – I wrote my first poem at age 6, my first short story at 8, and was published by 9. During the summer, my aunt used to give me essay prompts on a yellow memo pad to develop my natural love for writing.
Kids will show you what they like to do. It’s all about nurturing their gifts so that when they grow up, they’re not clueless as to what their purpose is in life, or what they’re good at (a common problem we as adults have).
2. Encourage open dialogue.
Kids are yearning for open and honest conversations. It doesn’t have to be structured or formal – casual conversations can happen on the ride home from school, during dinner, or even in between chores on the weekends. If you’re unsure of how to get a conversation started regarding a particular topic, there are a number of books with accompanying parent guides that include tips and talking points. Since we’re on the topic of self-love, this guide helps facilitate discussion before, during, and after reading I Am Unique!. Creating a safe, judge-free space for children to be their authentic self will help foster self-love.
3. Create (and recite) affirmations.
Our words and thoughts are powerful. What we believe to be true about ourselves determines the way we move through life. Whatever is in our thought life will manifest in real life. We can either be hindered by our beliefs, or empowered by them. Creating and reciting affirmations can help children realize the beauty and the power they already possess within themselves. For example, this mom had her daughter recite affirmations after she was bullied about the color of her skin. Affirmations shifted the energy from being a victim to being victorious in loving yourself.
To start creating affirmations for your child, first recognize the negative things you might be saying to yourself, or the limiting beliefs you might have. (Hint: your conversations might start off with, “I’ll never be that” or “I can’t do this” or “I’m not that.”) Children pick up on that energy and begin to model their behaviors off what their parents say and do. You’ll also want to be attuned to what they’re saying about themselves, whether it’s about their looks, capabilities, etc.
Take those negative beliefs and write them in the positive. Here’s an example:
Erin, the main character of “I Am Unique!,” wants to try out for the leading role in her school’s play. When she shares her goal with her best friend, her best friend says, “Princesses don’t have birthmarks.”
Limiting belief: “I can’t try out for the leading role in my school’s play because I have a birthmark.” Affirmation: “I love my birthmark because it makes me unique. I can’t wait to try out for the leading role in my school’s play.”
Affirmations help to reframe our mindset, making us mentally stronger, especially in the presence of negative energy. Helping your children nurture their gifts, having open and honest conversations with them, and affirming their greatness can all encourage self-love. It’s about giving them the tools to be their best selves, so that they’re equipped to navigate the intricacies of adulthood.
Jennifer Vassel is the author and founder of “I Am Unique!” — a children’s book series and empowerment brand that inspires kids to overcome their insecurities so they can share their unique gifts and do more of what sets their soul on fire. To learn more, visit I Am Unique Book and download the free audiobook.
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Story photos provided by author.