I Like You Just the Way You Are


Tales from the Parenting Trenches

“In modeling compassion towards our children, we may teach them to be kind to themselves. We can help them develop the courage to be imperfect.”

By Sabrina Connell | Twitter: @sabrinaconnell

The past two weeks have been particularly challenging for me as a mother. Recently, my five-year-old son has taken his desire for autonomy to a new level that has reduced me to tears and gripped me with a churning stomach, dripping in sweaty frustration. I have had the overwhelming feeling that while I may love him, I haven’t necessarily liked him.

Downward Spiral

Together, my son and I have been pulling one another into an awful downward spiral of irritability. The more frequently he tantrum-ed, the more quickly I responded in a harsh manner–even when he may not have deserved it, which inevitably left him more likely to tantrum.

On and on the cycle continued.

After a long, drawn out match between us last night, I realized that my efforts to correct him had left him feeling bad, not with regret or remorse–which may have spurred a behaviour change–but with the feeling of being vulnerable, weak and disliked.

I’d failed to make it clear that it was not him, but his behavior that irritated me.


Once I had time to step away from the heat of the moment, it occurred to me that his actions may have been the result of his insecurities  over changes in his preschool situation. He’s adjusting to an additional classroom, a different teacher, and a new set of peers. He’s feeling the turbulence that comes with change. Even as an adult, I hate being “new” because of the vulnerability that comes with it. How much worse is that feeling for a child whose identity and sense of self are just beginning to form?

A young child’s sense of self-worth develops slowly over a period of time and is strongly influenced by the behaviors of those individuals who are most important to her. Those who believe they are a source of joy and delight for others are more likely to develop a positive self-concept.

If a parent’s frustration consistently leaves a child feeling incompetent, it is likely that those feelings may become central to that child’s sense of self. Children confirm how they should feel about themselves by absorbing how others feel about them, and how a child feels about himself in his early years can set a pattern for the rest of his life.

School-aged children, in particular, are often consumed by the question: “Do they like me?”

Imperfection allowed

By nature, we are all flawed and vulnerable, yet we are designed to desire the approval of others. It’s important for our children to realize that imperfection is okay, that when they are unpleasant, they are still loveable and likeable.

Dr. Brene Brown, a professor of social work at the University of Houston, says our job is to look to our children and say, “You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” In modeling compassion towards our children, we may teach them to be kind to themselves. We can help them develop the courage to be imperfect.

I missed my mothering mark this week and forgot to show compassion. I missed an opportunity to remind my son that I liked him, despite his flaws. Can one lousy week ruin his self-esteem and sense of self? I doubt it, but admittedly I have some damage repair to do. I need to work towards a discipline of maintaining my own composure and enforcing a consistent consequence when he acts out. In my case, this means walking away and allowing myself time to decompress before engaging in negotiations with him. I also have to be conscientious about balancing my critique of his behavior with positive and affirming statements.

Fred Rogers, ended each episode of his television program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood by saying to his young audience: “You’ve made this day a special day just by being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.”

These have become my go-to lines with my own kids. Of course they’ll need updating as my children age, but for now they seem to work.

At the end of the day, I am the only mother on the planet that has the pleasure of embracing my kids–no other mother gets to experience them. When I consider that, I feel immeasurably grateful.


So, my SheLoves sisters, I would love to know:

  • What practices or routines do you use to remind your children they are likeable and worthy of love?
  • What parenting challenges have you been experiencing?
  • Any other thoughts or comments?



About Sabrina:

An artist-turned-academic, Sabrina spends her days navigating between a wide variety of roles including that of mother, wife, graduate student, researcher and daydreamer. She is currently a doctoral student in the Communication Studies program at Northwestern University where she researches the various ways in which children and parents engage media and technology and the potential effects these interactions might have on the development of children. Prior to her time at Northwestern, Sabrina earned a Master’s degree in child development from Tufts University, as well as a Master of Arts in puppetry from the University of Connecticut. She has a passion for all things involving play, whimsy and the art of nurturing.

Tantrum image from thestir.cafemom.com

Imperfection image from flickr.com