Although it may not always seem like it, your children really do listen to you. They soak up your every word, even when you do not think they are paying attention. Most of us use this knowledge in order to limit the bad things they hear. It only takes one swear word or snippet of gossip being repeated to a preschool teacher for us to learn that lesson. We will go to great lengths not to allow our words to pollute our children’s minds, and would certainly never use language that would tear them down. How often, however, are we conscious of using our words to build them up?
Here are four ways to do just that:
“It’s disappointing to get a lower grade than usual, but it was only one spelling test. Let’s have an extra study session before the next one to make sure we do better.”
Unfortunately, your child is bound to experience some sort of failure in his life. Help him to keep his mistake in perspective when he does. Habits begin to form shockingly early, and can be difficult to break – so now is the time to teach healthy ways to cope with disappointment. Validate his feelings – he knows he messed up, and pretending that he didn’t will only confuse him and make him less likely to trust your words. Keep him from beating himself up by reminding him that his setback is only temporary, and was only a singular event. His failed spelling test does not actually condemn him to a life of illiteracy. Finally, set a game plan to get him back on track. Hopefully this will become a habit, and his adult failures will be stepping stones rather than stopping points.
“I saw you help that little kid who wanted to play with you. You were so patient and kind.”
Children are tactile, concrete creatures, so many can have a hard time taking a compliment to heart when it is abstract. If you give her an example, however, she is more likely to understand and value the trait you are praising, and to repeat the same behavior later. Telling your daughter that she is smart is a wonderful thing. Noticing that she read an entire chapter book, however, can be much more effective.
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“What can you do to make it easier to remember your jacket tomorrow?
When your child makes the same mistakes over and over, it is easy to become frustrated. However, conveying this to your child by threatening a punishment or asking how they could be so forgetful will only add anxiety and shame to the problem. By asking what she can do differently and helping her to implement a solution, you are giving her a chance to solve her own problem. Instead of shaming her, you are helping her develop problem-solving skills. By re-framing the situation, you are changing her role from being the problem to being the problem-solver. Instead of feeling like a trouble-maker, she will feel clever and independent. Her first idea may not work out, but this is a good opportunity to build resilience – keep plugging away at the problem and she will feel even more accomplished when she finally conquers it.
“Jack is doing such a good job sharing with his friends lately. We’re so proud!”
All too often, we seem to think our child’s ears turn off when we are talking to another parent. Rather, what he hears you say about him to another adult can have a tremendous impact. When you compliment your child, he may resist believing it, thinking that you are just trying to make him feel good. What he hears you say to another adult, however, has a greater weight. He is more likely to take the compliment to heart and trust it to be true. Think of the way this would work in your own life. If your friend Willa told you your new haircut looked fantastic, you might be flattered – but if you overheard her saying the same to her sister, you would feel even more so.
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We all think our children are the greatest little people in the world, and most of us try to tell them so regularly. Use one of these methods to ensure that the compliments you give the child in your life hit her deeply and have staying power. You’ll be glad you did this when you meet the capable and secure young woman she will someday become.