There is much being written today about building our child’s self-esteem. It is a hot topic. Some of the advice is good and healthy for our children, some of it is bunk. Let me try to take the mystery out of this topic.
In my series of articles on Preparing for Baby, I wrote about affirmation and appreciation between mom and dad. Affirmation goes a long way to reducing stress and increasing pleasure with our spouse. It is also one of the best ways to help our children develop a healthy self-esteem.
Our modern culture wants everyone to feel good all the time. With that goal in mind, we are pressured to praise others for everything and give awards for mere attendance. This kind of empty, insincere praise backfires.
Kids have different reactions to weak praise. Some kids begin to feel they are already perfect and no longer need practice. Others try to be perfect and feel they constantly fail. For others praise confuses them. For instance, when they know they didn’t do well, but are told, “That was terrific,” they don’t know whether to trust their own instincts or what is being said about them. Others learn that praise is lying.
Affirmation, according to Mirriam-Webster, is ‘to say that something is true in a confident way.’
What does affirmation do for a child?
Affirmation helps children develop positive foundations on which to grow. Once we have matured, it is hard to change those foundations.
- Affirmation helps children have confidence in themselves.
- Affirmation helps children recognize what they are competent to do.
- Affirmation helps children learn how to use their skills to contribute to others.
- Affirmation builds resiliency in children to deal with the stresses in life.
- Affirmation lets children know they are accepted, loved, and supported.
What does affirmation sound like? Here are some examples:
- “I’m proud of you because . . .”
- “That was such a good decision.” (Explain why it was good.)
- “You worked so hard at . . .”
- “I like how you answered that question. It shows you are really thinking.”
- “You are such a good example to . . .”
- “You were so brave when. . .”
- “That was such a kind thing to do.”
- “Thank you for honoring me by . . .”
- “You are the kind of friend I wanted when I was your age.”
- “You have a great sense of humor.”
- “Your room looks great. You cleaned it so well.”
- “You made this? It is beautiful.”
- “You’re building strong muscles doing that job.”
- “You inspire people when you . . .”
- “You never give up on a hard job.”
- “Your life matters.”
- “It takes a big person to be honest like you just were.”
- “You are really polite. I was proud to introduce you as my child.”
- “You did this by yourself? Amazing.”
You can affirm, even when your child didn’t do well.
- “I know you worked as hard for that C as many students work for an A. You are diligent.”
- “I know you’re disappointed that you didn’t win. I’m so proud of you for trying.”
- “It can be hard to come in second, but it looked like you did your best. Someone else was just better. Keep trying, maybe next time you’ll win.”
- “I know you feel bad about your mistake. What do you think you can do differently next time?”
- “Ah, that was a bad decision. I know you’ll learn from it and make a different choice next time.”
- “I’m glad you told me about this. I love you and will always be here for you. We can work together to solve this problem.”
When is a good time to affirm your child?
- When you are teaching your child a new skill. Affirm their attempts and even partial successes along the way.
- When you see a spark of interest or a flash of brilliance. A little affirmation may turn that interest into a lifelong pastime or future employment.
- When your child used one of his skills or knowledge to help someone else.
- When you speak highly of them to another adult in their hearing.
- When you show them physical affection, speak affirming words.
- When you recognize they have a better idea than you do about something.
- When they have made a good decision.
If you realize you have been heaping meaningless praise on your child, now is a good time to pay attention to what you say to your child. Don’t fill their ears with, “You’re so pretty” or “You’re so big” or “Good boy.” Instead tell them what praiseworthy behavior you’ve observed in them or good attitudes they’ve shown or how what they have done has made someone else’s life better. Everyone tends to live up to the good opinions of others or down to their criticisms. A parent’s opinion carries even more weight.
- Look through the list of affirmation starters. Choose one or two that you can tailor-make to suit your child. Remember affirmation is saying something true in a confident way. So, make sure you can say it honestly and then be specific so your child knows what you saw as good.
- Choose a good time to give your affirmation to your child. Don’t say it when you are likely to be interrupted or distracted. Look for a time your child’s heart is open.
- Linger a little and be ready to listen to how your child responds or what questions they may ask. This can give you a clue as to how or what they would love to hear from you next time.
I know you can make a difference in your child’s life as you affirm them.
For more articles on parenting, check out: The Child-Ready Marriage