From the minute I was pregnant, I immediately devoured every scrap of info I could get my hands on to see if my development was normal, and I did things like comparing my body to other pregnant mothers. Of course, everyone is different, so this was a fun little emotional rollercoaster: some days I was elated, others I was devastated, and the worst part is that I did it to myself, AND it’s very easy to transfer this sort of thinking to your kids. What I didn’t know then is that the way we talk to our kids will have a deep and direct impact on how they feel about themselves. We’re talking about self-esteem here.
SO! Let’s think about how we interact with our kids, and keep from screwing them up. Here are 3 easy things you can avoid:
- Don’t label. When discussing their inappropriate behavior, don’t call them “bad” or “naughty little scamps”, just describe their “actions” and explain why their actions were wrong or bad. This can be super hard to do, because we’ve been programmed to label people based on their behavior. It’s easier to stop doing a specific thing (like tripping the neighbor boy Joey), but it’s much harder to stop being a “bad kid”. (Labels are bad, mmmkay?)
- Don’t compare. Unfortunately, this is how our brains work – we learn and communicate via comparison, and often the easiest comparison is to your other kids, or kids your kid knows. NOT GOOD. By comparing your child to another child, you’re setting them up for competition in a negative way. Nobody likes to hear that little Jessie got straight A’s or that Jason makes his bed every morning without being reminded. This just makes them hate Jessie or Jason, and the message you’re trying to convey is lost. Instead, try comparing their behavior to their own history. Bring up past examples of when THEY did well. By comparing them to themselves, they feel that you acknowledge that they are good kids. Then, all they need to do is change that one thing — they won’t be dealing with a constant battle to be better than someone else.
- Don’t lie. Kids are smart, they’ll pick up on fibs, no matter how “white” the lies might be. So don’t waste your time telling them that they probably didn’t mean to say that Jeni is ugly – kids are very literal – in their minds, she really is ugly! Don’t try to make them look better than they are because that just tells them they’re not living up to your expectations. This can cause lead to acting out or other, larger problems. If you catch yourself starting to fib, stop and simply ask your kid what he should do to fix the problem. If they don’t know how to respond or they continue to defend their behavior, explain why that behavior isn’t ok.