4 Easy Ways to Build Self Esteem When Talking to Your Child

Your child believes everything you say. And acts on it.

Posted Jun 24, 2013

"Amazing how a negative message -- even if it's unintentional -- can inflict a sharp stab to the soul and break down a child's spirit." -- Joanne Stern

Children rely on us to interpret the world: "That's HOT, Don't touch!... Now we wash our hands...We can walk now that the light is green.....We always... We never.... This is how we do it.....The sky is blue...."

What happens when they hear: "You'd lose your head if it wasn't glued on.....That was a dumb thing to do....You drive me crazy ....Why can't you....You never....You always.....You make me want to scream!"?

What happens when they overhear: "You won't believe the day I've had with that kid....He's never been much of a student....He and his sister will just never get along....He's not good at that....He's so irresponsible....He never does his chores without me hounding him.....He's always like that....He can't control himself....He's just like his father....He has such a temper...."

They believe it.

Even if they don't show it, even if they act like they don't care, on some level our kids believe everything we say. Unfortunately, you can't "un-say" something. But with a little forethought, you can use this tendency to help your child aspire to be her best self, and to feel better about who she is. Here's how.

1. Help your child see herself. Research shows that kids' beliefs determine their behavior. When you observe something positive about your child, tell her what you see: "You're working hard on that.... Hey, I saw you got frustrated but then you came back and tried again....Wow, you read that whole book yourself!....I've noticed that you're remembering to brush your teeth now without being reminded most of the time." Comment especially on any progress in the "right direction." We all need help to keep plugging away towards a new goal.

2. Empower by problem-solving instead of labeling. If you're offering your child guidance about something, stick to what's happening right now and empower your child to solve it. "You always forget to ..." programs him to keep forgetting. "How do you think you can help yourself remember tomorrow?" helps him become the problem solver instead of the problem. Just focus on how he can remember this time, and he'll start to see that he's a kid who remembers, more and more often.

3. Empower your child by helping her keep "failure" in perspective: Kids are creating beliefs about the world from every experience. When things don't work out as they hoped, they often draw global conclusions like "I got all these words wrong....I'm just no good at spelling....I'm not a good student." Help your child reframe to see that any given setback is temporary and she has some control over whether things will work out next time: "You're really disappointed that you didn't know these words....What could we do next week so you know the words before the spelling test?" Give your child as much support as necessary to be successful -- which is very different than doing it for them. Seeing that their actions have a big impact on their success helps kids try harder next time.

4. Let him overhear you saying something positive about him to someone else. He may not take it in when you say it to him, but when he overhears you saying it to someone else, he believes it. "He's trying hard at that....She was so helpful today.....I think he's finding that focusing on his homework helps him enjoy school more....He and his sister are learning how to work things out....I just so enjoy being with her....More and more often, he does his chores without me even reminding him.....I am so blessed that I get to be her mother!"

Your child believes everything you say. And acts on it. Enough said.