Understanding Self-Image and How It Impacts Your Child’s Life

Understanding Self-Image and How It Impacts Your Child’s Life

“We act, behave and feel according to what we consider our self-image to be and we do not deviate from this pattern.” Dr. Maxwell Maltz

Self-image is the idea you have about your own abilities, appearance and personality.
Plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz discovered that when he altered someone’s face, he often changed that person’s personality and life!
He found that the self-image was the key to the human personality and to a better life.

Confident child
The importance of the Self-Image

Understanding that the image you hold of yourself sets the boundaries of your being will change your life, and definitely your child’s life as well.
When your child’s self-image is enhanced, they will have more self-confidence, feel more valuable to themselves and those around them, learn to cultivate friendships, learn that mistakes help them grow and learn to set goals. Believe me, your child can be anything they want to be.
A positive self-image is one of the most important assets your child can have.

Even if you are not clear on the details of the mental picture you have of yourself, make no mistake, they are there.
These details are based on beliefs you formed about yourself from past experiences, your successes and failures, your humiliations and achievements, and the way other people have treated you, especially during early childhood.

The self-image then controls what you can and cannot accomplish, what is difficult or easy for you, even how others respond to you just as certainly and scientifically as a thermostat controls the temperature in your home.

The self-image is the foundation upon which your entire personality, your behaviour, and even your circumstances are built. As a result, our experiences seem to verify and by that means strengthen our self-images, a cycle then begins, being either a positive one or a negative one.

The cycle created by the self-image

As an example of this cycle, let’s consider a student who sees himself as an “unsatisfactory” student, or one who is “bad at mathematics,” that student will invariably find that his school report reflects this. He then has “proof.”
Whatever is difficult for you, whatever frustrations you have in your life, they are likely “proving” and reinforcing something ingrained in your self- image like a groove in a record.

One of the earliest and most convincing experiments along this line was conducted by the late Prescott Lecky, one of the pioneers in self-image psychology.
Lecky conceived of the personality as a system of ideas, all of which must be consistent with each other. Ideas that are inconsistent with the system are rejected, “not believed,” and not acted on. Ideas that seem to be consistent with the system are accepted. At the very centre of this system of ideas – the keystone, or the base on which all else is built – is the individual’s self-image, or his conception of himself.
Lecky was a schoolteacher and had an opportunity to test his theory on thousands of students. He theorised that if a student had trouble learning a certain subject, it could be because (from the student’s point of view) it would be inconsistent for him to learn it. Lecky believed, however, that if the student could be induced to change his self-definition, his learning ability would also change.
This proved to be the case. One student, who misspelled 55 words out of 100 and failed in so many subjects that he lost credit for a year, made a general average of 91 the next year and became one of the best spellers in school. A girl who was dropped from one college because of poor grades, entered Columbia and became a straight “A” student. A boy who was told by a testing bureau that he had no aptitude for English won an honourable mention the next year for a literary prize.
The trouble with these students was not that they were dumb or lacking in basic aptitudes. The trouble was an inadequate self-image (“I don’t have a mathematical mind”; “I’m naturally a poor speller”). They “identified” with their mistakes and failures. Instead of saying “I failed that test” (factual and descriptive), they concluded “I am a failure.” Instead of saying “I failed that subject,” they said “I am a failure.”
(From the book Psycho-Cybernetics, by Dr Maxwell Maltz)

Mother and Daughter
But how can we as parents make sure our children develop a strong and positive self-image?

I have to start by saying that at The Thriving Group our advice varies based on the different age groups, we tailor all our programmes accordingly, because as we explained on our blog post How to Raise Thriving Children – Part 1 The Science Behind, they are all in different stages of development and their brain works differently at each stage.

Today I’m going to focus on general advice that can be used across any age range and that I’ve tested with my 8 years old daughter Suri.

Help them cultivate a deep belief that they can do, accomplish or become whatever they want. Teach your child that they have tremendous hidden abilities and talents that are waiting to be developed, that it’s up to them to develop them and that the more abilities they develop the more they will enjoy life.

Emphasise that they are unique and that they should refrain from comparing themselves to others.

Make sure they feel important. I always tell Suri that she should feel important because she is an amazing person, she can think and make decisions, play Roblox (an online game), play tennis, eat ice-cream, ride her bicycle. I tell her she is special because she can make others happy, she is important to her friends, to her parents, to her grandparents and to her teachers. I also give examples of ‘why’ for each of them. For example, she is special to her grandparents and that’s why they keep asking for her when we are on FaceTime and they always ask how her day was, because they want her to be happy. And finally, I tell her that she is valuable to herself too and that I want her to know that.

Help them understand that certain perceptions they have of themselves can be distorted and then explain why this is. Then encourage them to acknowledge their positive qualities.

Look at your child’s strengths and make your child aware of them and how to develop them. Having knowledge of oneself will help to shift one’s self image in the right direction.

Help your child change negative thoughts to positive thoughts. My favourite method to work on this is by giving Suri positive affirmations and reminding her of her positive qualities, what she has accomplished, and how beautiful and happy her life is in general.

Be interested in your child’s interests. Talk with your child and ask them questions that prove your interest.

Express appreciation to your child every time they do something that’s good, this reinforces their good behaviour and conditions them to do more good things to receive more praise and appreciation. It’s important to remember that the best way to express appreciation is to praise the child’s actions and performance instead of praising them specifically. For example, I might say “Suri, I’m very happy with your math results, it shows that you worked very hard”, this is much better than saying “Suri, you’re really smart”. As long as you praise your child’s actions and performance, you can’t over-do-it, you can’t give them too much, the more you give the more you help building their self-image because you are helping your child relive successful experiences and when we relive past successful experiences we build our self-image. Praise your child’s actions, praise their efforts and accomplishments.

Provide clear, but not critical, feedback, teach them that mistakes are learning experiences. Let the child enjoy some freedom and independence, make their own mistakes and learn from them. With this you are giving them self-confidence, respect and dignity.

Lead by example, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do, be the role model of how you want your child to behave. How you deal with issues and situations in your life will influence your child’s behaviour.

Step back, give advice and options but let them make decisions for themselves. When children make their own age-appropriate choices from an early age, they feel more powerful. Make it clear that you will always love them and that you will be there for them.

Teach your child how to set goals. When they set goals, they feel great, they feel confident and this will encourage them to accomplish more. Start small with daily goals you know they can achieve and then take it from there until they get to the bigger ones. Make sure they finish one goal before they move to the next one.

Help your child to embrace themselves and life. Remember that self-image is built over time and is based on our experiences. It can be influenced by other people and it is a product of learning. But your self-image is not permanently fixed – you can always change it to be more positive.

At The Thriving Group we believe that Self-Image is crucial for the future of our children, and it is one of our areas of focus in our Foundation Programme. We also have an additional course specifically on Self-Image should students wish to concentrate more in depth on the topic.

Share your experiences with us in the comments or via email, we would love to hear from you.

Join us in Empowering Future Generations.

by Sofia Gouveia

Sofia Gouveia
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