Parenting Tips for September
Many children and adolescents suffer from low self-esteem. They might say things like:
“I am so stupid”, “I am not as pretty as so and so” or “I can’t do anything right.”
One mother complained about her daughter, saying, “I keep on telling her she is pretty and smart and fun. But, she gets annoyed and tells me ‘you just say that because you are my mother.’”
SO, what can we do to boost our children’s self esteem? How can we stop our children from putting themselves down?
The key is, when we compliment our children we should avoid giving them evaluative praise- like “you are so smart”, “you have the best personality”, or “ you are so pretty”.
Evaluative praise is seen as mechanical and empty. It gives kids a momentary sense of well-being. That’s why kids are so resistant to listening to this type of fleeting praise from their parents. Commending children this way makes them uncomfortable and defensive. Kids need descriptive praise. Descriptive praise gives them a positive image of their capabilities and truly boosts their self-esteem.
Here are some examples of descriptive praise:
Instead of saying: “You are the greatest…”
Be descriptive: Remind your child of the times that s/he was helpful and kind, by saying:
“Remember the time, I couldn’t find my earring and you looked all over the house and found it. That was so helpful and kind.”
Instead of saying: “You are so pretty or handsome…”
Be descriptive: Focus on his/her ability to put themselves together, by saying:
“I love the way that blue sweater matches your eyes. That is a good color for your skin tone. The sweater and the skirt/pants together remind me of an outfit I saw in a magazine.”
Instead of saying: “You are so smart…”
Be descriptive: Focus on your child’s accomplishments by saying:
“I remember the last essay you wrote for English class. It showed that you really felt Anne Frank’s plight and frustration. Your teacher also felt that way- remember her comments?”
Instead of saying: “You are so nice…”
Be descriptive: Tell her/him how they made you feel by saying:
“I had a really rough day. I didn’t know if I was going to get dinner ready on time. I was so stressed out! I really appreciate that you unloaded the dishwasher and did your brother’s job of setting the table. That helped calm me down and allowed me to focus on cooking dinner. I felt that we were a good team that night.”
Instead of saying: “You are the most intelligent kid I know…”
Be descriptive: Acknowledge the effort your child puts into her/his work, by saying:
“You really worked hard on this science project. You took the time to decide on a topic that interested you. You did the research that you needed to do at the library and on the computer. You did the artwork and the writing for the presentation. When the experiment didn’t work like it was supposed to you asked your teacher and I for ideas and help.You should be proud of the effort you put into your work.”
When we use descriptive praise with our children we paint pictures of their accomplishments and their developing talents. Evaluative praise, “You’re the best” can be erased the next day by a negative comment, “You will never learn.” But you can’t ever take away the time she helped cheer up her sister by getting her an ice cream cone, or the time he did his chores without being asked. These memories, based on his concrete actions, become a part of the child ‘s sense of self. He can draw on them when he is feeling down.
These tips were gleaned from Adina Soclof, an author, speech pathologist, and parent educator.