“It’s a shame you aren’t built like your momma—you’re stout like your daddy’s folks.” Bob, an elderly close friend of my family, was like a grandparent to me. I respected and loved him, which made his constant jokes about my body, intelligence, and abilities especially hurtful. My mother was a slender beauty, whereas I was a roly-poly fifth grader with Coke-bottle eyeglasses who so desperately wanted the approval of others. When I would softly complain about his comments, Bob would tell me to “lighten up” or to “grow a thicker skin.” Even today, years later, whenever I see Bob I can’t help but be reminded of how self-conscious he made me feel.
Protecting and boosting the self-esteem of your granddaughters is one of your most crucial responsibilities as a caring grandparent. Helping today can fend off issues such as eating disorders later. Here are some ways you can avoid making mistakes while raising proud and powerful young ladies:
Banish All Forms of Body Bashing While you would never call your grandchild “fat” or “ugly,” there are subtle ways that we often slip up with what we say and do. For example, Bob compared me to my mother in an unflattering way, which caused me to feel inferior. You might think that it is super cute to pinch chubby cheeks or playfully swat behinds, but if your grandkids tend to resist this type of affection, come up with other ways to show them you care and are having fun, like with high-fives and regular hugs. Well-meaning nicknames that call attention to the physical aspects of your grandkids, like “Peanut” or “Big Lindsey,” can also have long-term effects on their self-esteem. Also, keep an ear out for what your grandchildren say about themselves. If you catch your granddaughter putting herself down in the mirror or to her friends, put an end to the trash talk and encourage her to be more positive about herself and to take care of her body emotionally as well as physically.
Get to Know Her Better A great way to sound more convincing when telling your granddaughter to love and take care of her body is to know her inside and out: her passions, her dreams, her fears, her friends, her enemies, her everything. Scheduling “gossip” time for the two of you to chat over lunch is a great way to give her enough time and freedom to open up to you about the well-rounded person she is becoming. Be patient if she doesn’t want to share much with you right now. Continue asking her questions and showing interest and your relationship—and trust levels—will grow over time.
Do Unto Yourself Treat yourself the way that you want your granddaughter to treat herself—with love, kindness, and respect. Your granddaughter sees you as a beautiful and incredible person, so if you're calling yourself old or making self-depricating jokes about your body or brain, it can send confusing signals to her. You may be surprised just how often you are your own worst self-esteem enemy!
Buy Character-Building Gifts Instead of Clothes
Take your newfound knowledge about her personality and dreams and buy items that will encourage her to develop her talents and interests. Whether you buy an easel for a budding artist or a sewing machine for a fashionista with dreams of designing clothes, anything you can do to encourage her to see herself as more than just a pretty face is a step towards better self-esteem. You don’t have to cut off her clothing supply, but try to supplement each gift of clothing with one to enhance her skill set.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.