When we talk about wanting our children to have healthy self-esteem, what is it that we really want for them? We want them to feel secure, and have friends, and make good choices. Yes, yes, and yes. But at the heart of it, we want them to know they are deserving of love. We want them to love themselves, and we want them to know they are worthy of someone else’s love, too.
What happens to young girls who from an early age do not have positive role models in their lives? What if the people raising them have low self -esteem themselves? Can the damage be mitigated? How can we help?
One simple solution is to introduce young girls (and boys) to strong literary characters. When we read about someone else who is facing challenges and overcoming adversity, it can be a powerful lesson in how to live our own lives.
In One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012), we are introduced to Carley Connors, a young girl facing dramatic life changes. As the book opens, Carley is being driven to a foster home, where she is determined not to get too comfortable. When she arrives, she feels panicky and lost and scared, but even when she’s alone she doesn’t cry:
“I remind myself how she [her own mother] told to me to never cry. How she and her friends would laugh at me when I did. How my mother would tell me that crying was for suckers, and that you can’t be a sucker in Vegas.”
This kid’s guard is way up, and her defense mechanisms are much stronger than her nearly non-existent self-esteem. That’s where Mrs. Murphy, her foster mother comes in. Not everything is neat and tidy in her life, either, but she shows Carley another way to live.
For example, in contrast to her own mom, Mrs. Murphy tells Carley, “It’s okay to cry, Carley. You have good reasons. I can see you’re filled right to the top with it….I know things are hard for you, but I think the release would make you feel better…People are meant to cry.”
Throughout the course of this beautifully written novel, Carley learns to lower her defenses enough to love, and gains enough self-esteem to even be able to help someone else. But the most important thing that happens to her is that she finds the self-confidence to let herself be loved.
Carley’s life is full of real challenges, and the story’s twists and turns will keep you guessing (and reading!) until the end. I highly recommend this book for readers ages 9-12 (and beyond) who love a good hero story.
And, to all of you who are taking time each day to send the message you are worthy of love to the young people in your lives, I salute you!
Nancy Tandon is a writer and speech/language pathologist who lives in New England with her husband and two children. Her focus is children’s literature (picture books through mid-grade novels). She is a member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Nancy has taught Phonetics and Child Language Development as an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut.