Life has a way of giving us an abundance of chances to practice growth. When we make mistakes, we have an opportunity to learn new skills. When we feel down about ourselves, we have a chance to learn about our strengths and practice loving our attributes as they are.
This ability to practice self-acceptance and love ourselves even when things become tough is important for both kids and adults—but it’s not always easy.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to encourage a sense of self-acceptance in your child. If you’re not already an expert at self-acceptance yourself, don’t fret—most of these strategies can help you to learn the art of accepting yourself first. Then, you can be a model of self-acceptance and show your little one why it matters.
What is Self Acceptance?
Self-acceptance is the state of accepting yourself for who you are without conditions or exceptions.1 In other words, it entails accepting your strengths and talents and your flaws and failures.
Why is Self-Acceptance Sometimes Difficult?
If you feel resistant to the idea of accepting your strengths and weaknesses, don’t worry—you wouldn’t be the first. It’s easy to embrace positive traits, but accepting negative ones can feel uncomfortable.
Many people conflate acceptance with approval or complacency.2 However, this couldn't be further from the truth.
Self-acceptance does not mean that you give up on self-improvement or growth. Instead, self-acceptance paves a healthy foundation for it. It's also the first step to developing a healthy self esteem.
More so, self-acceptance is not a one-size-fits-all approach. In consideration of current systemic challenges, pressures, and issues, practicing self-acceptance is likely much easier said than done in many communities where families, friends, and kids are encouraged to overlook parts of their identity. However, this does not imply that self-acceptance should be disregarded––it may just require more time and reflection.
Why is Self-Acceptance Important?
Self-acceptance matters for both kids and adults because it's associated with higher levels of well-being and lower rates of mental illness.2 Without self-acceptance, you might be more likely to experience more feelings of shame, self-judgment, and negative self-talk.
Some people ultimately cover up their weaknesses with denial, which can block the potential for positive change. In contrast, self-acceptance creates the possibility for positive change by clarifying the areas you want to improve. Then, you can work to dissolve negative emotional blockages that may otherwise prevent you from getting there.
Self-acceptance can also help you to become more accepting of others. As a parent or caregiver, learning how to accept your child for who they are can do wonders for their developing self-esteem and self-acceptance. It can also enhance the health of your relationship with them.
What is the Key to Self-Acceptance?
The key to self-acceptance is understanding that you’re not your actions, mistakes, or immutable characteristics. You’re so much more than that.
Your worth as a person is essential. It is not dependent on you accomplishing certain milestones, looking a certain way, or being perfect. There’s no single action or trait that can take your worth away from you. It’s always there—you just need to know how to embrace it.
Examples of Self-Acceptance
Self-acceptance can be a tricky concept to grasp for people of any age. Talking and thinking about examples can be a fantastic way to understand what it looks and feels like.
Let’s look at a few examples of self-acceptance:
A child doesn’t score as many goals as a friend during a soccer game. They feel bad or insecure about their own abilities, but instead of feeling down about themselves, they practice self-acceptance and decide to celebrate the goals they did score.
In this instance, the child accepts they still have room to learn more skills and improve—but realizes they’re already accomplishing amazing things. From this place of positivity, the child can also help their friend celebrate and be proud of their achievements together.
A child becomes upset after something doesn’t happen the way they wanted or expected. Instead of feeling shame about their emotions, self-acceptance helps them understand that it’s okay to feel angry or upset sometimes.
By accepting these emotions, the child might not be able to change what happened—but they can feel better about themselves in the aftermath. Accepting one’s emotions can show that it’s okay to take space to experience your feelings, even when bad things happen.
A student is struggling to understand a concept in school. At first, this shoots down their self-esteem. After practicing self-acceptance, this student realizes that they have an opportunity to learn and grow and also remembers that they are excelling in other areas of learning.
While the student may seek out the help of a tutor and ask more questions in class, they can also appreciate their successes in other areas of life. When they do, their difficulties in one subject don’t feel like such a blow to their self-worth.
5 Ways to Model Self-Acceptance and Practice With Your Kids
As you can see, self-acceptance has a way of neutralizing difficult experiences and shedding light on the bigger picture. It reminds us that we’re all flawed but that most of us are valiantly trying our best.
Even in the face of adversity, we deserve to love and honor our worth. We can also use our challenges to guide ourselves and our children in a better direction after accepting and learning from our mistakes.
So, how can you encourage your kids to start practicing self-acceptance? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one of the best ways you can do so is by modeling how to practice self acceptance yourself.3 Below, we’ll explore five ways you can practice self acceptance and show your kids how to do the same.
#1 Accept the Things You Cannot Change
Showing your kids how to tell the difference between what’s in their control and what isn’t can help them to love themselves for who they are. By accepting and embracing their unique abilities and differences, they can feel more joy about themselves throughout their life.
Instead of lingering on the things they can’t change, you can show your kids how to direct their efforts into growing and improving the things they can control.
Here are some examples of times and ways you can talk about this idea with your kids:
- Consider directing their focus towards goals that are within their control. They may not excel naturally at certain subjects in school. But they can grow to enjoy the process of learning, and realize that making mistakes is simply part of that process.
- Use examples to talk about things you can’t change. For example, you can’t change the weather if it’s raining—but you can accept that it’s happening, choose to carry an umbrella, and plan a fun day of indoor activities instead.
#2 Practice Self-Forgiveness
We have all had moments that we aren’t proud of. If your child is having a hard time accepting some of these moments and experiencing more negative emotions, some self-forgiveness might be in order.
Teaching your child how to forgive themselves doesn’t mean you’re encouraging bad decisions or not showing them how to improve in the future.4 It simply means that you’re showing them how to free themselves from feeling bad about these past mistakes. Once you’ve forgiven yourself, you can be fully present. The present is the only place where positive changes can take place, after all.
You can model self-forgiveness to your child by showing them forgiveness when they act out or do something they weren’t supposed to do. Remind them that even though certain behaviors may not be appropriate or acceptable, you still love them and know they’re learning.
#3 Use Positive Affirmations for Self-Compassion
It’s easy to feel down about yourself if you make a mistake or feel you can’t control what’s happening around you—and this goes for both kids and adults. To encourage self-acceptance in such times, you can help your child learn to show themselves compassion.4
Self-compassion proceeds many aspects of self-acceptance. Being compassionate towards yourself often involves treating and speaking to yourself as if you were your best friend.
This type of self-talk may not come naturally to us or our children, but you can both practice it with the help of using positive affirmations for kids.
Affirmations are statements you repeat that express a sentiment you want to start embodying. You can say these out loud—and around your kids—to demonstrate self-compassion in your own life. Here are a few ideas for inspiration:
- I am allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.
- I am capable of making positive changes in my life.
- I treat myself with love and respect.
- I don’t have to be perfect to be worthy.
- I deserve to be happy.
- I love myself unconditionally.
- I forgive myself for past mistakes.
- I am just enough as I am.
You can use similar affirmations with your child. For instance, if they claim that they’re not smart because they failed something on the first try, gently correct them with an empowering affirmation and ask them to repeat it back to you.
#4 Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Some people say comparison is the thief of joy. The reason? No matter how amazing you are in your relationship, career, or finances—or for a child, a sport, a game, or a subject in school—there will always be someone who has you beat in a certain area. Just consider the soccer example we talked about earlier.
So, how can you show your child how to tame their inner critic? Instead of comparing themselves to others, encourage your child to compare themselves to who they were yesterday. Doing so can show them how to acknowledge how they’ve grown and improved.
You can remind your child that their only job is to be the best version of themselves, rather than trying to be better than someone else. Do this by helping them make comparisons to their past self instead of friends or others around them. Here are some examples:
- Instead of saying, “Wow! You scored more goals than Thomas!” after the game, say “Wow! Your soccer skills are getting better every day.”
- Instead of saying, “Joanna is growing even taller than you!” say, “Look at that—you’re an inch taller than you were last month!”
In addition to recognizing your child’s skills and abilities, it’s equally important to acknowledge and reflect on your child’s supporting efforts and social skills. For example, you could say, “I love how you cheered for your teammates today!” to show them that they (and their teammates) are valued for more than their performance, but for who they are and how they treat those around them.
#5 Practice, Practice, Practice
As with any new skill, learning self-acceptance might take practice. It might take some time for you and your kids to make self-acceptance into a habit, and it’s okay if you find your inner critic shows up every now and again. In these moments, you can gently encourage your child to return to a place of self-acceptance.
The key is to be aware of when those feelings of negativity might come up—and actively show your kids how they can practice self-acceptance instead. This might happen during big life events, but you may find plenty of opportunities to practice in everyday tasks and moments. For example:
- When something happens that your child can’t change, help them see the positive side of things.
- When they make a mistake, help them to practice self-forgiveness and learn new skills by talking about what happened.
- When they succeed at something, help them celebrate how far they have come by comparing their skills to their past self, rather than someone else.
Support Emotional Growth with Slumberkins
Modeling and practicing self-acceptance can be a powerful way to teach it to your child. When you let go of impossible standards and embrace your unique traits and strengths, you give yourself and everyone else around you the grace to be human. Self-acceptance can also help lead to better mental health.
Self-acceptance is just one of the many important emotional skills children need to learn. Looking to learn about parenting with confidence? Or maybe some ideas for self-esteem activities for kids? For more help teaching emotional growth, start with Slumberkins.
At Slumberkins, we encourage kids to be their best and brightest selves, develop strong emotional skills, and embrace self-acceptance. Join the Slumberkins family today to check out our books on self-acceptance and learn more about building strong connections with your children.
- "Self-acceptance." APA. Dictionary of Psychology. https://dictionary.apa.org/self-acceptance
- MacInnes, D L. “Self-esteem and self-acceptance: an examination into their relationship and their effect on psychological health.” Journal of psychiatric and mental health nursing vol. 13,5 (2006): 483-9. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2006.00959.x
- "How to Shape & Manage Your Young Child’s Behavior." American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/How-to-Shape-Manage-Young-Child-Behavior.aspx
- Clay, Rebecca. "Why you need more self-compassion." American Psychological Association. September 2016. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/09/ce-corner
- "What Is the Serenity Prayer?" VeryWellMind. Updated 4 March, 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-serenity-prayer-62614
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