Developing Self-Esteem in Children – Principle #7

The next principle in helping to grow a child’s self-esteem is that caregivers should communicate acceptance and respect for the child, even when the content of the message may be difficult.  

How to speak respectfully to a child even when the message is difficult

Reading to a child
One simple, genuine compliment can make or break someone’s entire day. For children, these affirmations mean even more.

Each of us likes to hear affirmations and positive messages particularly from people we trust and we know are sincere. One simple, genuine compliment can make or break an entire day. For children, these affirmations mean even more.

It is rather amazing to me that when I evaluate people in their employment, I can state many positive things, but they will focus on the one thing I said about their job performance that wasn’t completely positive. Why would they focus more on a minor negative comment than all the positive ones? Well, if adults feel and react in that way, imagine what children feel when they are told that they have not performed well, or that they are not acceptable to their caregivers.

On occasion, I have heard frustrated caregivers send messages to children in their care such as “you’re hopeless and you can never do anything right.” One may not think so, but in fact, children who have experienced and remember these kinds of cruel words state that the impact as just as destructive as physical or sexual abuse.

Two kinds of verbal attacks

There seem to be two distinct styles of verbal attacks: direct attacks and subtle or indirect attacks.  These can include teasing, sarcasm, insulting nicknames or subtle put-downs that may leave the child feeling totally inadequate.

Imagine the impact of remarks like, “What’s the queen want this morning?” or “That’s a good-looking jacket – for a clown!”  These types comments whether subtle, teasing or direct can lead to a gradual erosion of confidence and a sense of shame.

I know children need to be disciplined, and at times told that a certain behavior is not allowed. But we have to realize that how the message is conveyed is extremely important because of how the impact of the message is accepted, and consequently that the child will respond positively to it. This kind of sensitivity will not only guard the self-esteem of our children but minimize them resisting our words.

It is critical to communicate to children in ways that are clear about what is acceptable behavior without being destructive to who they are. In future posts, I will give some suggestions as to how to do that.  For today, let’s just acknowledge that our words are powerful to them and have significant—and sometimes unforgettable—impact.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Research taken from Pathways to Competence,  Second Edition, Sarah Landy, p. 351-352p.

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