Communication That Builds Positive Self-Esteem
The ways parents and caregivers communicate with children and teens greatly impact their sense of self-esteem, which is essentially how they feel about themselves. Psychologists from Children’s Hospital offer the following recommendations for ways to communicate that can help children and teens develop a positive self-image:
Be an Active Listener: Pay attention, stop what you are doing, and look at the child on his or her eye level. Repeating what you hear a child saying (It sounds like you . . .) helps them understand their feelings. Being supportive and non-judgmental is also beneficial. If children are able to discuss the pros and cons of decisions they may choose, it will help them have a plan for independent decision making in the future.
Use Positive Language: Instead of saying don’t, tell children what you’d like them to do. Model and reinforce positive interactions. Examples of positive language include: I like the way you’re using your inside voice, Watch me pet the puppy gently, Let’s take the ball outside to play, and You remembered all the rules. I’m proud of you.
Praise: Use lots of words, phrases and gestures that make another person feel good. Children will want to repeat the behavior that leads to approval and praise, so praise should follow the act as soon as possible to be effective. Also keep in mind: praise shouldn’t contain negative comments (I’m happy you remembered to take out the trash should not be followed by I hope you don’t forget to do it tomorrow.); praise can be used to encourage effort, even if a child hasn’t done everything you’ve asked (Consider You did a great job getting your socks on – let me help with those shoes.); and be specific when you praise. (Instead of You did a fine job, try I like the way you raked the leaves and put them in such neat piles.)
Use I instead of You: When something happens that bothers you, say the word I. This will help you express your feelings and your child will learn that it is okay to feel angry, disappointed, sad, happy, etc. Phrases like: You make me!, You always! and You never! shut off communication by putting the child on the defensive.
Especially for Teens: Continue to convey a willingness and availability to talk, despite teens’ tendencies to distance themselves. Realize that communication can occur during planned times such as family dinners, as well as informal times such as riding in the car to the mall. Also keep in mind that what teens may consider a crisis or have a need to process may be different from what adults may view as a pressing concern.
Overall, with young children, always be sure to use words your child understands. With older children, be precise and detailed about what you expect. Consider writing down instructions so they (or you!) will remember the plan over time. Also, consider that patterns of communication may change with each stage of a child’s development.
More self-esteem tips are featured on the Children’s Hospital website. A list of suggestions for “Ways to Praise” is located at http://www.childrenshosp-richmond.org/families/parent/praising.htm.
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