Learn how to teach self-love for kids with Slumberkins. Discover activities and strategies to build confidence and kindness in your little ones.
Self-love is the habit of treating ourselves kindly, accepting ourselves as imperfect, and letting go of harmful self-criticism and judgment. Sometimes, we confuse the idea of self-love with being self-involved. But practicing self-love doesn’t encourage people to be selfish.
Instead, studies show that self-compassion helps people challenge themselves, be more open-minded, and feel more satisfaction and a sense of happiness.
So, how do we teach self-love to kids to make sure they start off with a healthy dose of this powerful trait? Much of it comes down to how we treat ourselves. In this article, we’ll break down what self-love really means and how to provide a good model of compassion, acceptance, and resilience to our children every day.
Understanding Self-Love and Its Importance
Research shows that self-love plays a pivotal role in mental health and emotional well-being. Studies find that people who practice self-compassion tend to exhibit:,
- Greater resilience after setbacks
- A growth mindset
- Higher self-confidence and less self-consciousness
- Less anger and closed-mindedness
- Lower rates of stress, anxiety, and depression
- More interest in learning and taking on new challenges
Self-acceptance doesn’t mean we make excuses for ourselves or stop trying to learn and grow. In fact, when we love ourselves, we’re more willing to learn from mistakes and try new things. As parents and caregivers, we can give our little ones a healthy head start on developing the habit of self-love by teaching it from the very beginning.
Showing Your Children Unconditional Love
In order for children to express love, they must first grasp its essence and experience being cherished. The most effective way for them to comprehend love is by receiving it from their guardians. Demonstrate unconditional love to your children and articulate your affection so that they can truly grasp the emotions linked with compassion. It is equally important to instill in them, from an early age, the understanding that they are deserving of love. Acquainting them with this profound sense will contribute to wiring their minds for love, fostering a foundation that enables them to appreciate and love themselves in return.
Modeling Self-Love for Children
What do you do when you make a mistake? Does your inner voice say things like, You’re always doing that, or Why don’t you ever learn? If you have a harsh inner critic, you may not realize that your child is affected by it, too. For example, if you knock a glass over and mutter, “So stupid,” your child is internalizing that model of self-criticism.
That’s why it’s so important to lead by example when it comes to teaching self-love and self-confidence. Here are some tips to keep in mind when practicing positive self-talk in front of your child:
- Demonstrate positive self-talk – The language you use around your child, even when it’s directed towards yourself, has immense power in shaping their self-perception. Watch out for sneaky self-critical phrases (“I always…” “I never…” “I can’t…”). When you make a mistake, acknowledge it with kindness and acceptance: “Oops, I forgot to buy milk at the store. Oh well—we all make mistakes.”
- Set healthy personal boundaries – Show your child that taking care of yourself includes saying no and setting boundaries. Expressing needs and preferences is part of self-care, not selfishness.
- Foster independence and self-confidence – Model a positive attitude toward challenges. Watch out for phrases like “I can’t get this right,” or “I’d never be able to do that.” Instead, try to use these words of encouragement for kids: “This is hard, but I’ll keep trying,” or “I’ll try a different way next time.” Not only does positive self-talk help to build confidence, but it also allows a parent to show their little ones it's okay to make mistakes.
Incorporating Self-Love in Family Activities
Family traditions and activities that incorporate self-love not only create lasting memories but also provide opportunities to reinforce and practice positive habits. Here are some fun activities to do as a family that focus on self-compassion:
- Start a daily affirmation practice – Begin or end the day with positive affirmations designed to grow self-confidence. This family ritual not only promotes a positive self-image but also reinforces your bond with your child. Browse the Slumberkins Caregiver Resources collection for affirmations to practice courage, self-esteem, gratitude, and every emotion in between.
- Read books about self-love together – We always recommend storytime as a perfect opportunity to talk with your child about big feelings and ideas. Books like Bigfoot, You Are Loveable, Yak, You Are Good Enough, and The Confidence Within are some of our favorites for starting conversations about self-acceptance and compassion.
- Comment when your child shows self love - If you notice your child using self love, point it out. You can say something like, “I love how kind you were to yourself just then.” This will help support good behavior and teach your child that these actions are encouraged.
Addressing Challenges in Self-Love
Learning (and teaching) self-love isn’t always easy. Habits of self-criticism are hard to break. We also need to be careful not to teach kids that feelings like self-doubt, worry, or fear should be internalized or covered up.
Helping Kids Overcome Negative Self-Talk
Encourage your child to share any feelings with you, including negative feelings about themselves. Remember, self-acceptance doesn’t mean hiding doubts or fears. It means accepting that mistakes happen and understanding that we don’t need to be perfect.
Help your child practice replacing negative self-talk with acceptance and positive thinking:
- Instead of “I always mess up,” say, “Mistakes let me learn.”
- Instead of “I can’t do this,” say, “I am still learning this.”
- Instead of “I’m bad at that,” say, “I don’t need to be perfect.”
Remember, just jumping in and saying “Don’t say that!” can actually have the opposite effect that we want. This type of reaction can make a child feel shameful or embarrassed. Instead, gently empathize but then offer another phrase like, “It can be so frustrating to mess up. I get it. But, remember, mistakes are how we learn.”
Cultivating Resilience and Self-Compassion
Resilience is the ability to handle setbacks and try again. To build this mindset, it’s helpful to remember that the outcome of any project or goal isn’t as important as the effort.
Here’s how to put this into practice:
- Avoid praising abilities – When your child gets a good grade, avoid praise like “You’re so smart!” With this kind of praise, your child may internalize the idea that a lower grade means they’re not smart. Instead, try, “I know you put in a lot of effort with your studies!”
- Encourage problem-solving – When your child takes on a challenge or makes a mistake, model how to treat failure as a learning opportunity. Focus on the next attempt, not the past: “What could you try next time?” or, “I wonder how else you could do it?”
Celebrating Love on Valentine's Day
Valentine’s Day is the perfect chance to celebrate all kinds of love, including love for ourselves. Why not start a new family tradition this year that helps your child build the habit of self-love?
Here are some fun ideas:
Bring a Self-Love Story to Life With Slumberkins
Building a habit of self-love is as simple as giving ourselves the same kindness and acceptance we give our loved ones. Remind your child that they are always worthy of love and care, even when they make mistakes.
Slumberkins can help you nurture healthy habits like self-acceptance, compassion, and resilience in even the youngest children.
We’ve created our characters, stories, and interactive activities to be relatable and engaging for kids from infancy up to preschool and beyond. Our goal is to help caregivers and children explore the world of emotions hand-in-hand, so we can all learn to love ourselves and each other more every day.
Human Development. The role of self-compassion in development: a healthier way to relate to oneself. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790748/
Journal of Experimental Psychology. On feeding those hungry for praise: Person praise backfires in children with low self-esteem. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xge-a0031917.pdf
Mindfulness. Self-compassion interventions and psychosocial outcomes: A meta-analysis of RCTs. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-019-01134-6