Words 1-3: I Don't Know
These words are powerful. Learn to say them, even if you think others may judge you as stupid or naïve. You are not stupid or naïve when you ask questions...asking questions comes out of a place of self esteem and power, not lack of intelligence.
I saw a bumper sticker once that said: Less judgment, more curiosity. Wow, I never realized that curiosity is the opposite of judgmentalism...but that makes sense, no?
Teach your kids to ask every question they have.
Words 4-6: I Need Help
Again, these are powerful words. They are not a sign of weakness. Needing help is OK, and asking for help is necessary. Don't assume that others can read your mind and offer help to you when you need it. Asking for help is tough to do, but, will lead to you feeling better. Ironically, the easier it is for you to ask for help, the less needy you will feel. This is important, so allow me to repeat myself: The easier it is for you to ask for help, the less needy you will feel.
Words 7-10: This Doesn't Feel Right
Someone with good self esteem will get out of a situation which is uncomfortable. We have that power, we can leave wrong situations. One of the most important things to teach our children about friendship and dating is that they need to trust their own inner voices. If someone is making them not feel OK, then it is NOT OK. We need to trust our inner voices: "Does this situation feel GOOD or does it feel YUCKY?" If something feels wrong but it should feel right, it is wrong. Our inner compass is more important than "shoulds" placed upon us.
Another example of this, unrelated to relationships: When I was 29, I searched nationwide for a job. I found myself in Aspen, Colorado interviewing with a psychologist who wanted me to join his practice. Never being there before, I had imagined that Aspen was a town of a quarter million people, a small town by my standards, but a "happening" place for a single young man.
I found a town with less than 10,000 people and one stop light! I asked the shrink what one does around here other than skiing and drinking. He told me that mountain biking, hiking, camping and running were really big in Aspen. "That would be great," I thought.
Now, I wasn't then, nor was I ever, a biker, a hiker, a camper or a runner, but...I was thinking to myself, "I can learn to bike, and hike, and camp and run. Yeah, I can see this working out just great."
I went home to think about it further, and, luckily, realized that I would be miserable there. I am a big city guy, not an outdoorsman. Never was, and probably will never be. I was trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. I turned down the practice offer.
Had I more self esteem at the time, I would have looked the guy in the eye and said, "Sorry, but this just won't be a good fit for me." It takes self esteem to realize when something isn't working right.
The Eleventh Word: No
"No" is not only a word, but, it is also a complete sentence. Learn to say no, without apologies, excuses or explanations. "No" is a big part of assertiveness, and, a big part of taking care of yourself.
Now, I know you parents are thinking that it would be crazy to teach a child to say no, as they say it so easily already. I hope you understand that I am encouraging the teaching of assertiveness and to be true to yourself.
I would like to end with a story about my favorite teacher in eighth grade, Mr. Laffer. He was a hippy with a beard and bright red hair. I loved science, and he may not have loved me, but Mr. Laffer liked me and enjoyed my sense of humor.
When it was yearbook time, I looked forward to seeing what he would write to me (yeah, I know, I wasn't too cool at the time). He wrote: "To thine own self be true" and signed it. I read it, and was disappointed. I thought about it and went back to him and had him write something else to me.
As time moves on, I realize that Mr. Laffer's original inscription is actually the best instruction one can give a thirteen year old. By the way, I was totally shocked to later learn that it was some guy named Shakespeare, and not Mr. Laffer, who originated the quote.