Why do so many of us look to another to validate our worth?
Why do we seek approval externally?
Well as a parent I can tell you that in my experience, we breed this type of behavior.
I sit and observe us tell our kids "good job" as we create rewards and validate behavior that we deem acceptable. We praise and affirm our children when they do well and give our "approval" to them...then, they learn that if they do more of "that good stuff," they will get more approval, more praise, more validation.
So, the question is...how do we stop this cycle and attempt to validate the child always...affirm and praise the individual person always...and address choices and behavior separately?
I believe it's all about self esteem and believe it or not, it is possible to help a child to grow a strong sense of self esteem within themselves...but it takes a lot of intentional effort and awareness, that's for sure.
As I am working on my own self esteem issues, I am acutely aware of my daughter's experience. Already at age 5, she is aware that her physical appearance is different. She is tall. What a great thing, right? But she is now very aware that she is tall. You see, people say to her all the time "Wow, you are so tall" or "You are so big" so much so that it has become something that she is very aware of. See, people don't point it out much when you are short....they don't say "WOW, you are so short" to little 5 year olds who are petite....but when you are 5 and you are so tall that you look 8, people think it's ok to make those comments. So, lately little T has been saying to me out of the blue..."Look Mommy, there's another tall girl" when she sees a tall girl at the library or something. So, she's already aware that something about her is different, and she is seeking her likeness in others around her. She is hoping to not be the only one.
One of my core objectives as a parent is to help my children learn to love themselves for exactly who they are, respect themselves, believe in themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin - even in the areas where they are different. This will serve them ALL OF THEIR LIFE.
There are many areas in day to day life where I already see both of my kiddos displaying a strong sense of self. Little C is proud to be who he is and doesn't really care what you think most of the time. Little T is much more worried about others liking her and we've been having some really good talks lately about what really matters...that she likes herself, that she is happy with her choices, that she feels good about who she is, the way she treats herself, the way she treats her friends, the way she helps others, and that she knows she is important and that she has a valuable, unique contribution to make to this world that no one else can make.
As I was saying all of this to her the other day...it stung a little...it's a good reminder for all of us. We all have a contribution to make - no one else can take our place. Not yours! Not mine!