Have you ever eavesdropped on someone complimenting you? Did it somehow feel more genuine and credible, overheard and out of the blue, than when people have praised you face-to-face? Adults and children often listen more intently when they are being talked about than when they are spoken to directly; they absorb praise more readily if they are not expecting it.
“Look at this project Ella did – she spent so much time and care over it. I was really impressed by her enthusiasm.”
How we talk about our children will therefore have a bearing on their experience of themselves and in turn effect their self esteem. Although we all naturally think critically sometimes, and benefit from sharing the tribulations of parenting, it is good to be aware of how you talk about your child to others – especially siblings. Catch yourself before you make that quick comment: is it a criticism, a complaint, a comparison? Can it be reframed or not said at all? Can the imperfections and negatives be ignored? Instead, share the good intentions your child has, no matter how subtle. You don’t have to boast – just be honest! This act will help you hold in mind the efforts your child is making and move away from feelings of disappointment. They are doing their best after all!
Talking about them positively and empathically – even if they are not in the room – will make you feel good about your child and, in turn, they will feel good about themselves.
“Come and see this lovely picture your sister made for you at school; she must have been thinking about you all day. What a lovely/sweet sister you have – it’s so nice to be loved like that.”
“My daughter’s coping so well with all the changes she’s going through at the moment. I forget how grown up she can be.”
One step further in this quest for less criticism would be to watch what you say about yourself, and your partner, in front of your children.
Find a way of sharing what you value about the whole family, including yourself, and avoid self-deprecation. Further still, when you share stories with others, try to emphasise your family’s strengths. Your child will start to absorb these ideals, thus creating a kind of family motto – the spirit of your family.
“Isn’t it great that dad always makes sure the car has got petrol? It makes life so much easier.”
“We got through that difficult time because your dad and I make a good team.”
“We’re pretty good in a crisis!”
Ultimately, if we are mindful of what we say, our children will learn vicariously how to value themselves and others.
Helping children to move away from critical thinking will enhance their self esteem and potentially benefit the entire family.
Special thanks to Stephanie Stansbie for her input.
If you missed the first article in my Growing Resilient Children series, have a read about the benefits of Observing Our Children here
Naira Wilson is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and a mum of 2 young children. She specialises in childhood mental health and has worked in the NHS, in various capacities, for 19 years. She currently works in a Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service for Oxford Health Foundation Trust. To read more about Naira click here
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