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Children / Motherhood

We Went in for Chocolate and Got Self-Esteem

  • No Barbie dolls — check.
  • No disparaging of my own body — check.
  • Frequent reminders that what’s inside matter more than what’s outside — check.
  • Daughter without self-esteem issues — out of checks.

I naively thought, when my daughter was an infant, that doing these checked items would go a long way to helping Tessa develop healthy self-esteem. After all, she would have her own obvious inner light and beauty, as well as the benefit of my nearly 4 decades of working out my own issues wisdom to help her short-circuit the problems that can exist on a young girl’s path.

Hah! Now that I’m parenting an 8 year-old, a complex being with layers and layers of known and unknown facets, I can see that raising a daughter with healthy self-esteem is going to require a lot more than I thought it would.

A new tool suited for this challenge was thrown across our paths recently. I was drawn, almost like a magnet, to a non-chocolate booth at the recent Chocolate Festival (imagine that: a room full of free chocolate and we wander off to a booth with no edibles).

We walked by a pink-and-purple themed booth where some face-painting was taking place. As Tessa got hearts and stars on her cheeks and Reed got sword-bearing snakes (don’t ask), I chatted with the radiant, statuesque woman who was responsible for the booth.

She told me she had authored a book, a work she was guided to write, to help girls age 7-14 to recognize and appreciate their own inner beauty.

The woman’s name is Debra Gano, a Colorado-based author who is a former actress/model (and strikingly beautiful, not surprisingly), someone who made a nice living on her looks. She is qualified to tell what that does to a person’s inner value.

Debra gave me a complimentary copy of the first in the HeartLight Girls series called Beauty’s Secret ($12 through Amazon and $18 on Debra’s website). Beauty is a loved and loving daughter who has a brother and a good friend. Her life is full of joy and harmony, and one day she is discovered by a modeling scout, who invites Beauty and her friend to enter a pageant.

Beauty’s measure of her worth thus moves from inside herself to outside herself. In lush paintings that drew Tessa in and with with a storyline that appealed to her, we learn of Beauty’s departure from Innocence, to the meanness of Narcissism and the return to herSelf, wiser than before.

Debra’s book has several high-profile cheerleaders: Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love), Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul), Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God) and Dom Testa (Denver radio personality) among them. In addition, Beauty’s Secret recently won the Coalition of Visionary Resources Award for Best Childrens’ Book of the Year in 2008.

But how does it play in Peoria? Or Wadsworth, for that matter?
[photopress:heartlight_girls.jpg,thumb,pp_image] Tessa and I read Beauty’s Secret over the last week — one chapter a night. The message in Beauty’s story is an important one, one that if absorbed will help a pre-teen understand what true beauty is, where it is housed, and how to let it shine even amid outer judgment.

Beauty’s Secret also has given Tessa and me a new vocabulary with each other for noticing when our heartlights are obscured, and a shortcut for reminding each other to shine our inner beauty. When Tessa veers toward the edge of meanness (which often occurs because she’s not feeling self-love), I now put my hand on my heart, reminding her to go inside and find her inner light. While I don’t expect the awareness of her heartlight to be a cure-all, this cue and it’s connection to Beauty’s story has actually worked several times.

Tessa and I are eager for part 2 in the series, and beyond.

What do you think are the most important elements in raising children with healthy self-esteem?


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  1. I love this post. You are always attuned to special issues and concerns in regards to parenting. My daughter is still young–just turned five and is still oblivious to society’s pressures. I have taken the same measures as you but I LOVE the concept of this book. A fantastic recommendation.

  2. Self esteem is a tough one because I believe each person is individually guided. For one person it might be having a talent in a certain area and feeling accomplishment; for another person it could be feeling good about helping others. Each person’s source of self esteem is as unique as a face.

    It sounds like this book helps to bring out a common language to help parents and daughters (like you and Tessa) to talk. So when she is tuning in to her “heartlight,” even if she can’t specifically tell you what is important to her self esteem, you both know what you are talking about. So as she feels it, you feel it too.

    The common term, “heartlight,” gives each of you a clue as to what’s important to her self esteem. My guess is that if you continue to use this common language, you’ll each gather more clues and have a much clearer understanding of what makes her tick.

    It sounds like a great book for parents and daughters alike. Thanks for such a great review!

  3. The unconditional love of both parents, particularly the primary caretaker, is embedded within the self esteem of every child.

    I met Debra and her daughter at the Children’s Museum when she received yet another award for her book, The Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. The connection between Debra and her daughter was ever-present. THIS is the connection that is key to a child’s self esteem.

    What a wonderful gift to give parents and daughters a secret code to help each other through the tough and uncomfortable times, as well as the shining moments.

    The children who are able to safely share these “heartlight” feelings with their parents are those who will find their self esteem. Tessa’s a lucky girl, Lori!

    And it sounds like any girl who gets to share this experience with her mom is, too.

  4. I”m looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the recommendation-

    Melissa Taylor

  5. This sounds like a great book, Lori! I think the key to raising children with a healthy self-esteem is to do an inner inventory to make sure our own self-esteem is where it should be.

    It’s kind of like when they say to place your own oxygen mask on first before helping those around you.

    If you are confident and willing to not only learn but learn from your mistakes, your children will too. Will there still be struggles? Absolutely, but it’s much easier to build on a strong foundation. 🙂

  6. Having raised three beautiful (inside as well as outside) daughters who became strong, confident, well-adjusted women, you would think I would have a clue. Truth is, I think I was lucky. It is difficult for a mother to counteract all those outside sources of input that daughters put so much stock in….TV programs that idolize the perfect body, look, skin; TV commercials that shout that we should be unhappy with who we are and if we only buy, buy, buy, we too can fit in; and most of all the peer groups whose sole purpose seems to be to tear a fragile ego down. As if that makes the peer feel any better about herself.
    Open and honest communication is important. The secret signal to reinforce confidence seems like a great solution. And if all else fails, pray. It might help!

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