Living Big – promoting ownership in your children

Author: Emma Langham
Clinical Psychologist

“What?!” I hear you say – “promote ownership?!, is this psychologist serious?!”

And I am. Completely. Serious.

I am not referring to ownership of possessions, or of your time, or of every decision in a day – most of our kids under 5 years of age have already worked that all out to their own advantage really well!

What I am referring to is the art and skill of truly owning yourself. For your child to learn how to truly own themselves. Hmm… I hear the cogs turning – but don’t tune out just yet.

This is not a concept I was introduced to as a child, not even really as a teenager. I had the cognitive idea as a young adult paving my way through University and thought I’d figured it out long before becoming a parent. But truly stepping into yourself fully and owning who you are, what you are, and what you do is not the same as having self-confidence. If only it was that easy (and whoever said being self-confident was easy!!?!…at best I find it a constantly changing enigma often just out of reach, other times it’s nowhere in sight).

Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to be connected with some fabulous inspirational speakers who have a common them of encouraging their audience to ‘seize the day’, to encourage business owners to ‘go forth and live your purpose’, to make the world a better place… yatteh, yatteh, yatteh.

So what qualifies these speakers to educate others about this stuff? It’s not a uni degree, that’s for sure. It’s usually not even that they have spent time in deep meditation with yogis or deliberately chosen a career in speaking and worked out the formula. But they certainly seem to be spiritually ‘awake’.

Something that strikes me about their own stories is that they share a common theme of having emerged from a life ‘crisis’; a near death experience, a major illness that ensued a long battle, or personal tragedy through loss of a loved one.

So this got me thinking.

Do only people who have lost so much, so terribly, faced with significant and often debilitating trauma, fully appreciate how wonderful it is to be alive? To appreciate every day, to give yourself permission to honour and accept yourself? For all it’s flaws and imperfections, as well as it’s ‘okay parts’?. The old cliché of ‘you only appreciate what you have once it is lost’ notion.

In which case, most young children shouldn’t be very joyous, or appreciate what they have.

But in fact, the opposite is usually true. Children can delight in the most basic and inconsequential things… sometimes for a period that can seem an inconvenience or a nuisance to us parents. That childhood ’innocence’ permits and allows for freedom of delight and freedom to be ‘whole’.

It’s only as we get older, with the realization of our mortal constraints, with the experience of failures and perhaps of thinking (even being told) we’ve let others down, that self-doubt sneaks in, or takes
over. Or we get side tracked. Working for the machine, gaining that next career notch on our belt, adding to our investment portfolio, tracking our super account grow and wonder if we’ll have enough money to survive retirement, if we are fortunate enough to need it…. Or for myself today driving home to ‘beat the storm’ and rescue the dry washing from the surely criminal fate of becoming wet again, only to be halted in my distracted small-minded thinking by my 4 year old who piped up from the back to say “isn’t it so beautiful mum, to hear the raindrops on the car as we drive along!?”.

Reality check. He was absolutely right. How glorious it was to be immersed in the gift of rain. To be tuned into my senses and hear the rain brought immediate contentment. The anxiety and frustration of having to dry again already dry (now wet) washing suddenly faded and it no longer seemed a chore. In fact running around in the rain getting it off the line once I was home actually seemed more like an adventure and I literally laughed out loud. I guess the neighbours might have thought I was nuts. But I didn’t care less.

So, how can you, as the parent of a young child, fresh in this experience of life, support them to truly own themselves?
To accept who they are, to know they are capable of much more than we can imagine, and to be free to explore life with no limits?

It starts with you.

Not just by telling them that they are your world, that they are amazing, that they can do whatever their heart desires, that they can achieve anything. These things can definitely be important and make an impact on your child’s self-concept, but in fact showing your child how to live big is even more powerful.

If you are a parent who always plays it safe, never allows time for themselves to focus on personal goals or joys, or downplays and minimizes the successes and accomplishments (even ‘failures’) you do have, then you are living life small. And by doing so, you are teaching your child that this is the ‘normal’ – to live life small. To not expect too much. To do ‘what is expected’. To fall into just ‘doing’ (the everyday mundane tasks of living life such as wake up, go to work, come home, eat, wash, bed, get up again…) and not ‘being’ – being an ever growing, learning, changing, striving, reaching, human being (ie not a human doing!).

Be proud of who you are. Have dreams and share them with your child. When something de-rails you, acknowledge it. Let your child know that small steps are still steps in the direction you’re going, even backward steps show you are moving, not stagnant.

Don’t wait for a tragedy to inspire you forward and shed the cloak of guilt for being ‘self-serving’. Embrace what you have now. Embrace who you are now. Deal with it, and make the most of it. No wonder they call it ‘the human condition’, if it takes near death to accept being human and genuinely live life rather than ‘do life’.

Make it happen. Set a small goal today, this week, toward something that will make you feel more alive, more deserving, more of a human being. Anything. Think of a time you felt more ‘alive’. Think back to the things in your youth you delighted in, looked forward to, felt contentment from. Aim for that.

And then, the most precious gift of all – share the experience with your child.

Then watch their excitement grow, and their ideas broaden. Watch their own dreams and plans flourish. Join them in imaginary play down on the ground or in the dirt of your backyard, building Lego or creating the latest cubby from sheets… play beside them and allow them to lead. Ask for their direction and encourage possibility. Lay the foundation for them to truly learn how to own themselves, their ideas and their self-belief. By being beside them, lifting them up, rather than cutting them down.

And they will grow into themselves, into self-belief and will not be restrained by barriers and ‘what ifs’.
So instead of saying “what if” (you fall, hurt yourself, fail) to your child next time this sneaks onto your tongue, try replacing it with “why not?” (have a go, see where it leads, find out what you can learn, even from ‘failure’). Even subtle, small shifts in language can lead to giant leaps in thinking, and therefore in action.

Raise a child who can be themselves in a life they create, not a ‘doer’ who just does what they are told.

It starts with you.

“Aim for the moon and you will reach the sky”.

As always, be mindful.

Emma Langham is a Clinical Psychologist based in private practice in Cardiff, Lake Macquarie, in a group practice named ‘The Jacaranda Centre’. Taking inspiration from an incredibly old and wise Jacaranda tree that stood tall beside her office when working for public health whilst dreaming of helping children without constraint, The Jacaranda Centre aims to provide shelter to children and families from life’s hardships and share wisdom to keep growing.

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