Loving others can seem so much easier than loving herself. You may have noticed how much comfort and care your daughter can extend to a friend who has had a bad day and, yet, she will be the first to reprimand herself for the slightest "oops" or social error. Perhaps she forgot she had a science quiz and had to wing it, or she got caught in a conversation about a topic she didn't understand and her friends called her out by saying, "Do you even know what cringey means?"
In these moments she can feel the most disconnected, ashamed and lost. She needs reassurance and a sense of safety and security. Instead of turning inwards and loving herself, she'll likely reach out and look for instant attention, affirmation, and validation; this is all too easy on her social media accounts. Yet the kind of connection she may get is fleeting and unfulfilling.
What she needs is true connection. Although neuroscience and attachment theory teaches us that relational connection can come from primary caregivers who can provide the safe space for her to unburden and feel loved and cared for, we can also teach girls to cultivate self-love and self-connection.
Loving yourself has become so cliche these days and also somewhat abstract. "Just love yourself," people say. But what, exactly does that mean and how can we, as concerned and caring parents, guide girls to love themselves?
Here are three ideas for helping her cultivate self-connection and self-love. Give them a try and observe how much she benefits from a focus on caring and appreciating herself first, before she gives her love to others.
Help her identify what makes her loveable
Together, create a list of her top 10 "loveable qualities" on a small card. These qualities, written out, and tucked away in a safe place, can do her wonders, especially on those days when she feels the least loveable. If she can't come up with descriptors, help her out. See how these words fit for her: caring, kind, funny, interesting, spontaneous, inclusive, understanding, confident, creative, brave, bold, funny and fearless. The list is endless because she is very loveable.
Help her get through days she doesn't feel so good about herself
First, explain to her that these days are normal and to be expected. Everyone has bad days. Yet, what matters most is her ability to be self-aware. Sometimes, girls can make their bad days worse by disconnecting and isolating themselves from loved ones or by judging and criticizing themselves, creating feelings of separation and loneliness. Neither of these life tools is helpful nor healthy. When she can recognize her inner experience and how she feels, then ask for what she needs, she is learning to love herself as she moves through the pain and discomfort of a bad day.
Speak to her about self-nurture and teach her how to care for herself
There are so many ways she can practice self-care, and when this becomes a daily habit, she is sending herself the positive message that she is worth the nurturing and loving. Self-care can be whatever she chooses to feel good about herself.
Some easy and practical ideas include: applying moisturizer or lip balm to dry skin and lips, playing an upbeat song and singing or dancing around the house, having quiet time in her room with a good book and blanket or baking cookies with you and deciding to surprise someone with a cookie basket. Self-care is not only helping her to feel calm and good about herself; it is the kind of love she can create within herself.
Self-love may be a foreign concept to girls (and adults) who readily hate on themselves, but self-connection is so important and necessary for healthy growth and development. She needs to know that she can show herself love each and every day. By loving herself, she doesn't need to search for love outside herself with virtual validation, and she will have more love for others.