Learn how to help develop your children’s sense of self-worth through positive talk.
I once came across a comic strip that depicted a series of cartoons of a child being told what to do throughout their school day by teachers, school staff, lunch monitors and yard monitors during recess. When they arrived home from school, the child’s parent continued: “Sit down at dinner!” “Clean up this mess!” “Go to bed!” The comic strip was silly, but it demonstrated how much instruction our kids take throughout the day. When they get home, they have a list of things parents expect them to do. Then they go to bed and the day begins again.
There is certainly no avoiding the responsibilities in life, and it is our job as parents to train and shape our children into responsible adults and citizens. But the power of making small adjustments to create positive communication can play a vital role in a child’s self-esteem. We certainly cannot control the type or style of instruction they receive throughout the day at school, childcare, recess and so on — but we do have the ability to control the style of communication they receive in the home.
We previously explored how to be intentional about discussing and exploring feelings in a fun way, and research clearly shows that children are affected by how someone communicates with them. If there is something that you witness that requires correcting your child, yelling at them will have a different impact on that event than a calm response that welcomes discussion. I like to think of this as “respond, don’t react.” When parents can respond, it considers the question of “What do I want them to learn from this?” Instead of the impulsive reaction that doesn’t put much thought into the outcome. The way you communicate with your child — in good times and in hard times alike — directly impacts a child’s view of themselves, as well as how they communicate with others.
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For example, when speaking with children, you want to:
- Get down to their eye level.
- Use a calm voice.
- Keep it simple by using as few words as possible.
- Address the behavior without negative language.
Instead of “I’m not buying you that,” try “I have an idea, let’s make a fort when we get home!” In addition, instead of “Stop crying,” try saying, “Please use your words.”
- Use logical consequences.
“If you do that, we’re never coming back here again!” is illogical in most instances, and it’s frankly ineffective. Swap that out with “If you want to have dessert tonight, you’ll need to stop shouting and get calm with me.”
This approach can be a lot to remember in the heat of the moment when you’re witnessing a tantrum or the stress level is high, but do your best to remember that with practice, come results.
To reinforce these skills, many parents are now implementing a “calm calendar” in which a parent and child can review calming strategies each day or at the start of each week to develop a child’s calming practices. The structure of the “calm calendar” allows the child to have their own personality, but reminds them of what you are working on as a team. This little calendar can be as simple as a few words written on a wall calendar or as creative as an artistic agenda on the chalkboard wall. Whatever format you choose, make it authentic to your family and something that you will all use. The goal is for children to have the skill to use calming strategies to communicate and resolve their conflicts when you are not there.
The last strategy that parents can use to create positive communication and increase self-esteem is the “5-to-1 ratio.” This approach is that for every one correction, you give five praises. Kids are going to need correction throughout the day, but for every calm correction you give them, keep mental track of how many times you praise them and make it to five. By doing this, you will keep the positive momentum going for your child and you might just increase your own positive outlook as well.
Remember, you control the narrative for your child at home. While we can’t choose our child’s teacher, bus driver or even their friends, we can control the words they hear out of our mouths and the social environment we create. You are shaping and growing a future friend, spouse, co-worker and so many other roles they will take on as adults — so remind yourself that the work is not easy, but it is endlessly important.
Servando Vera is the executive director of Child & Youth Development at YMCA of Orange County.