Closing Speech, 2005

Self Respect in Children

Darlene Cates

Image of woman holding baby.
Darlene holds our youngest attendee, Hannah, as proud mom Zsalynn and others look on. Photo by Ray Hackney.
My grandson, Daniel, when asked about self respect for this talk, told me something very insightful for a twelve year old. He said, "Well, self respect is like candy. Too much can be a bad thing and make you cocky and a know-it-all, but too little of it can leave you wanting for more." I thought he nailed it. How do we strike a balance that gives our children what they need to survive in this world?

I feel I am not qualified to give much advice on this subject. My own daughter had a beautiful curvy body in high school, but was convinced she was fat. Nothing I said convinced her otherwise. Her best friend was a scrawny girl and Sheri compared herself to her friend. She probably also was fearful that she would become fat since so many of her relatives were heavy, and of course she had me for a role model.

That was good in some ways, bad in others. I never was able to convince her that she wasn't fat. She finally decided she hadn't been when, as a older woman, she did pick up some weight. She looked back on those pictures of herself in her drill team uniform and said, "I wish I was that fat now!"

Much of what think and feel about ourselves is based on what we were taught as children. Children who are raised with total love and acceptance and truth are better able to handle harsh treatment they receive by their peers, teachers, care givers, doctors, and coaches. The most important thing we can do as parents is love and accept them completely and be truthful with them. When we say, "No, Honey you're not fat," or "They're just jealous of you," we are not giving them the tools to deal with the issue. Perhaps finding out why they think they are fat would be a good place to start, especially if they are not heavy.

Girls are beginning to diet at the young age of five. In my mind, trying to influence a young person that has been bombarded by messages in the media would be a tough sell. A reminder of all the things they are would be good. But gently confronting the things they aren't is a good thing, too. This whole idea of telling children they can do anything or be anything they want, just isn't realistic. Life will soon teach them their limitations. But if we can instill a sense of being OK, even if they can't do or be anything they want, gives them the tools to be accepting and non-judgmental of their limits, and those of others. Letting our children fail while sending them the message that we love them anyway is hard. Too often, we are putting our own agendas on our children. We think that if they do badly at anything reflects on us as parents. What a precious gift to let your child grow in success, failure, love and acceptance.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I am not a expert in this subject. I can only share with you what I perceive as good and correct. There is some wonderful information on child activism projects at the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination. It was written for children, but as I read it I realized it was good advice for anyone.

I hope you find some useful information. God bless you all and have a safe journey home.

© Copyright 2005: This speech or any portion thereof cannot be copied or used without permission from Darlene Cates,

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