Inside Out Parenting

In her new practical guide to bringing up strong, resilient and happy children, consultant child psychiatrist, mother-of-two, and occasional blogger, Dr Holan Liang says without self-esteem, a child©s achievements will be unfulfilling, their relationships will be lopsided at best and doomed at worst, and perhaps happiness will elude them forever… S4K discovers more on this ©empowered approach to parenting© and how to raise well-rounded kids ready to take on the world…

Q) You have said that the challenge for us parents is to work out WHO our kids are and not WHAT they do. What do you mean by that?

I think that understanding WHO our children are involves the following:

  • Understanding their strengths and weaknesses in terms of; social skills, ability to tolerate frustration, ability to understand social situations, ability to manage emotions, their level of emotional intelligence and their level of general intelligence.
  • Understanding their preferences: what they naturally enjoy doing.
  • Understanding the way they think; the way they would typically respond to a problem (e.g. step up to a challenge or back away).
  • Their self-esteem
  • Their personality and attitudes (introverted/ extroverted/ risk-taking/ risk-averse/ ordered/ chaotic).

I think that if parents understand their children, and where they are coming from, then they are more able to support and guide them appropriately based on the child’s personality and natural inclinations, rather than having a rigid plan that; “in order for my child to be well-rounded, they must get straight A’s, do one sport, play one musical instrument and speak one other language”. Having a plan in itself is not a problem, I love plans, but they must absolutely be flexible and changes made based on understanding your child.

Q) There could of course be many causes, but what do you think are the core reasons for a young child to have low self-esteem and what can we do as parents to prevent these feelings?

I think the early years are fundamental to a person’s sense of self and identity as someone who is loved. This is why early childhood neglect and abuse are so damaging with lifelong impact. If we extrapolate back from this, then minor ‘neglect’ may be making small dents in self-esteem. We know that children of parents with post natal depression, (who are unable to engage as well emotionally with their young babies) are more likely to have lower resilience and self-esteem. Extrapolate even further and you can see that different parents (even without post natal depression) vary on their social and emotional engagement with their babies and young toddlers. Be this from being socially disadvantaged, not knowing that it’s important, personal health or mental health problems, social and financial difficulties at the time, relationship breakdown at the time, unemployment at the time, working long hours etc. etc.  What we can do to prevent low self-esteem is for wider recognition of the importance of these early years in this, and also be happier ourselves as parents. The more stable and happy parents are, the more stable and happy their children are likely to be.

Q) There has been much talk recently in the media on how younger children have low self-esteem because of our looks-obsessed society. Do you think we have a much bigger problem now than a generation ago?

I think that a looks-obsessed society prays on the vulnerable and children with weak or weakened self-esteem may suffer more. But children with very good self-esteem are not too affected – this is the “resilience” that we want to build in our children. It’s difficult to have a good sense of the data on whether our generation is more looks obsessed than previous generations (there have always been obsessions with looks e.g. women wearing corsets that damaged their rib-cages in the past), or just that it has become more acceptable to call it out. Without a doubt, social media has meant that people prone to low-self esteem due to making comparisons with their peers can do so much more easily now and this can certainly increase impairment of self-esteem. Certainly from a clinical perspective, I have never/ hardly ever seen a child with low self-esteem who says that the ONLY reason they have low self-esteem is because of seeing pictures or images of other people looking beautiful. There is more often than not other things going on and the image obsessed part is only one (usually small) part.

 Q) In your book you address the trouble with gender stereotypes. In your opinion where do parents and institutions go wrong?

Acceptance of the status quo! I have met so many women who are unhappy doing the majority of the parenting, as well as trying to work, but say that there is nothing that they can do. They do not hold their husbands or employers to account. Speaking out, calling out and action is the first step. There are many husbands and institutions who are very happy with the status quo and will be resistant, but equally there are many husbands (including my own) and institutions that would be willing to change if they felt a need or were asked to. Getting these people on side as well as all winning over the many women who have accepted the status quo would tip the scale to more people in favour of change.  No change will ever happen if women continue to accept the status quo. My husband even voted for the women’s equality party recently so I have absolutely done a great job!


Top Tips For Developing Social Skills

BABIES ARE SOCIAL BEINGS TOO The building blocks for social skills start when your child is a baby. You can encourage the development of these precursor skills by interacting with them as much as possible. You know all those times you thought that shaking a rattle to get your baby’s attention was just a dumb, mindless activity? Think again. Joint attention is
a fundamental building block to social skills. You know when your partner makes fun of you for spending hours making faces at the baby? Well, you can now legitimately say that you are improving your child’s social skills because facial expression and body language are the most universal and powerful forms of communication. A facial expression cuts through any language barrier and can convey all the meaning you need to anyone, from any continent, from any culture.

PARTY TIME FOR KIDS IS RESEARCH TIME FOR PARENTS As tempting as it is to spend the whole party nattering
to other parents and feasting on wine and cheese, it is worthwhile spending some time observing your children at birthday parties. For parents, these occasions are rare chances to observe children mixing with their peers, unhampered by adult mediation. If your child gets into difficulty, try not to always intervene immediately and see how they cope with their own skills. After all, this is what they will rely on in the playground. You can then better understand what goes on in their school day, and judge if your child needs additional support in this area.

MANNERS MATTER Manners are a shortcut to social skills, and that goes for socialising with familiar adults, unfamiliar adults and children alike. But unfamiliar adults, in particular, will fall over themselves to praise your child (and by default you) if they witness good manners. It’s the easiest and most effective thing to do, so if you only have time and energy to do one thing, I would do this: insist your child says please and thank you whenever they ask for or are given something. It will initially require you to prompt your children with, ‘What’s the magic word?’ repeatedly, and I did this so much that the phrase would automatically trip out of my mouth every time I passed anything to anyone. It transpires that if you do this while passing your boss water at a meeting, it doesn’t go down too well.

Inside Out Parenting: How To Build Strong Children From A Core Of Self-Esteem by Holan Liang is published by Bluebird (RRP £12.99) and available now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *