4.4 Self-Esteem Tips, Summary, Practice
IS PRAISE EVER OKAY?
Okay, by now your healthy paranoia is in full bloom. You are probably saying, “I’ve been praising my children their whole lives! I had no idea that my efforts to make them feel better could be making them feel bad!” Whoa! Take it easy. First, if the worst thing you ever do in parenting is to praise rather than
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encourage, you still get a gold star. Remember, we are looking at more effective and less effective methods, not right and wrong. Praise isn’t bad, it’s just less effective at building self-esteem than descriptive encouragement and has potential negative side effects.
Knowing the pitfalls of praise, there will still be times when praise is natural and necessary. Praise can be encouraging, depending on the following factors:4
Use praise with encouragement, not as a tool by itself. If you’re feeling genuinely enthusiastic and find yourself exclaiming “Good!” don’t feel guilty. Just follow it up with an encouraging, descriptive statement so the child knows why it was good.
Raising your self-esteem as a parent strengthens the self-esteem of the entire family. You are worth-while because you are you. You do not have to earn your worth by being an effective parent.
Use Positive Self-Talk
It’s easy to criticize ourselves. Self-encouragement takes much more effort, at least at first. We can consciously choose what we tell ourselves about events and our abilities. The self-esteem and serenity we gain make it worth the effort.
Pay attention to the dialogue that goes on in your head. Many negative thoughts are leftover baggage from childhood. “You shouldn’t do that . . .” “That was somehow my fault.” If you had an unhappy childhood, it’s not too late to give yourself what you need. Encourage yourself now, the way you wish your parents had.
Give yourself credit for what you are doing well. List, on paper, what you do well and your strengths as a person and parent. If you notice a negative thought about your abilities, decide if it is accurate. “I am a bad parent” is not accurate. You are judging, criticizing, and labeling yourself. Ask yourself, “What, specifically, do I think is so bad?” As you list your weaknesses, view them as areas to work on. Take each negative quality and create a positive statement out of it.
When writing positive affirmations, use words that are constructive and reassuring, as though you already have the quality.
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Repeat the statements out loud throughout the day. Say them to yourself in the shower, while driving or jogging, when relaxing, or when looking in the mirror in the morning. By telling yourself you have positive qualities, you begin to believe in yourself. What you believe, you will see. The truth here is that you do have all the positive qualities you want to have. You just have to be willing to believe you are worthy of your own love. Program your thoughts and speech in the positive and the negative will begin to disappear.
Love Yourself Unconditionally
Value, accept, and appreciate yourself as you are, with all your imperfections. Parenting is a challenging task; both you and your children will make mistakes. When you do something you wish you hadn’t, be kind to yourself. Remember, what’s important is that you learn something from the mistake and make amends if you’ve hurt someone. View your mistakes with a sense of humor. Laugh at yourself in a friendly, loving way. (Reread the Declaration of Imperfection in Chapter 1, “Touring The Parent’s Toolshop.”)
Divorced parents can face difficult challenges to their self-esteem. When a relationship fails, the partners often feel like they are failures. Even if a separation or divorce is an improvement, family members can experience a temporary dip in their self-esteem. If either parent uses the children to hurt the other, it affects the self-esteem of both parents and children. Self-blame and blaming the other spouse create a negative and unhelpful attitude. Parenting after divorce is a time of healing and establishing new, revised family relationships.
Children have a higher need for security and affirmation during and after divorce. Some children wrongfully blame themselves for the divorce. Children are frightened to see the adults in their life acting like children—arguing, blaming, yelling, or being revengeful. Children can have temporary regressions in behavior or start behaving negatively. Since misbehavior is the result of discouragement, encouragement at these times is critical.
You can regain or improve the self-esteem your family had before the divorce. Focus on strengths, encourage yourself, use positive self-talk, and visualize yourself meeting your goals. Offer your children encouragement and reassurance. You can live and thrive after divorce. You have a choice, however, as to the quality of that life. Whatever the financial or material resources you have, your inner resources are what matter most to your recovery.
IMPORTANT POINTS ABOUT ENCOURAGEMENT
- Encouragement is the one tool that most directly builds self-esteem. Several other toolsets build self-esteem in indirect ways. The Independence Toolset teaches children skills, helping them feel more capable and confident to try new things. The Cooperation Toolset prevents power struggles, which are discouraging to parents and children and can lead to misbehavior. The F-A-X Listening Toolset helps us acknowledge children’s feelings, giving them the courage to face and overcome their problems. While the specific toolset we choose will differ according to the situation, follow the basic guidelines outlined in this chapter when using encouragement.
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- Descriptive encouragement is a powerful tool. When we describe what our children do in an appreciative or enthusiastic way, they will often repeat the behavior. So be careful what you encourage. If your child is playing with a loud, obnoxious toy, and you want him or her to stop, don’t say, “Boy! You look like you’re having fun!” The child is sure to show you just how much fun by making noise for another hour!
- Don’t just use encouragement on your children, teach them how to use the skills, too. Show them how to give compliments that increase self-esteem rather than ego-esteem. Restate their comparisons to other children. Give them positive statements to replace negative self-talk. Help them turn their mistakes into important learning experiences they can feel good about.
SELF-ESTEEM is how we feel about our inside qualities.
SELF-IMAGE is how we think we appear to others on the outside.
EGO-ESTEEM is thinking we are (or are trying to be) better than others.
PRAISE uses judging labels that focus on pleasing others.
ENCOURAGEMENT uses descriptive words that foster internal motivation.
SHOW UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
- Give encouragement when children aren’t expecting or demanding it.
- Don’t use love as a conditional reward.
- Describe each child’s special qualities.
- Give according to individual needs, not equally.
- Spend one-on-one time with each child; have fun!
FOCUS ON SELF-MOTIVATION ☆☆☆☆
- Show trust in children’s judgment. Ask children their opinions.
- Help children trust their inner voice and not rely on others’ opinions.
- Focus on children’s feelings about their accomplishments.
SEE THE POSITIVE ☆☆☆☆
- Focus on what’s right. Point out positive behavior and qualities.
- Give credit for any effort children make.
- Describe how children’s efforts help themselves or others.
POINT OUT ANY IMPROVEMENTS CHILDREN MAKE
- Avoid “constructive criticism” and reminding children of past mistakes.
DESCRIBE, DON’T JUDGE ☆☆☆☆
- Avoid words like “good.” Instead, describe what makes it “good.”
- Express appreciation.
- Name the quality they showed or used.
- Free children from roles and labels, both positive and negative.
- Describe what that person did, without any reference to others.
- Discourage unhealthy competition. Focus on doing one’s best.
BE GENTLE WITH MISTAKES ☆☆☆☆
- Focus on the lesson.
- Have realistic expectations. Encourage children to do their best.
Give children a D.I.P. a day! (Describe, focus on Internal and Positive)
Permission for reader to reprint this page for personal use only granted by author, Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.
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THE LANGUAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT
I love you just because you’re you.
You are special, because . . . (list qualities).
Your needs are important.
I like spending time with you.
Let’s do something together, just you and me. Any ideas?
What do you think?
You have a real talent/ skill for . . .
Can you help the family by . . .?
I trust your opinion. I believe in you.
It’s okay to feel that way.
Even if I’m upset about something you did, I still love you.
I know you did the best you could.
I can tell you’re pleased with it.
Tell me what you like about it.
You’ve really come a long way!
I bet it feels good to be able to. . .
You can be proud of yourself . . .
I trust your judgment.
I know you’ll work it out.
You have a good head on your shoulders.
You showed good judgment by. . .
I can see you did (describe what’s “right”).
Thanks for helping with . . .
Thanks, that helped a lot.
It was thoughtful of you to . . .
Thanks, I really appreciate ____, because it . . .
I need your help with . . .
I admire your . . .
That’s it! You (describe)
I can tell you have improved (describe).
You might not feel ___, but look how well you . . .
You really worked hard on that.
Your hard work really paid off.
You tried and tried and didn’t give up.
You’ll get it with practice. How do you feel?
I have faith in you.
You spent a lot of time on . . .
The way you _____ is especially _____.
Hey! You made it! You came so close!
I could really see how much you improved. (Describe how.)
Look at that!
I know it’s not your favorite thing to do. Thanks for doing it anyway.
You sure (describe).
You _____ and _____. That’s what I call _____.
I bet it made (person) feel (feeling) when you (describe).
Did it feel good to ? I noticed the way you . . .
I really appreciate the way you . . .
Remember when you . . .
Go ahead! Try!
What (person) does has nothing to do with you. If you want to _____, do it!
Not only did you _____, but you even _____.
Just do your best.
Way to go!
Keep it up!
Even if it isn’t perfect, that’s okay. You did your best.
I know you’ll learn something from it.
What happened? Do you know why? What did you learn?
Is there anything you might do differently?
Permission for reader to reprint this page for personal use only granted by author, Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, The Parent’s Toolshop, © 2000.
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Write an encouraging response to these statements or select the multiple-choice answer you think is most encouraging. There’s not one right answer to most, but there are some clues to help you choose certain helpful tools you just learned. It’s still up to you to plan the actual words to use. (Possible answers are at the end of the chapter, but give your answers first, before looking at them.)
1. Child: “Who do you love more? Me or Jessica?”
2. Child: “He got more than me!”
3. Your child has been in her room for an hour and says she’s finished cleaning her room. When you look, it’s still cluttered and disorganized.
(Finish this sentence.) I see you’ve . . . (describe, list)
If you haven’t taken time to teach what “clean” is or how to do it, what would you do? If you have taught what “clean” is and how to do it, what would you say?
4. Your daughter was pulling weeds, but accidentally pulled up flowers. (Show understanding for her mistake and give information.)
5. Your preschool child got dressed by himself. His shoes are on the wrong feet and his shirt is on backwards. (Describe what’s “right” and how this effort was an improvement.)
6. Your son finally said “Excuse me,” instead of laughing, when he burped at the dinner table. What would you say?
7. Your daughter scored in the 99% range in math on a placement evaluation, but only got a B– on her report card. What do you say?
8. Your son cooked macaroni and cheese by himself. Thank him by describing the steps he took.
9. Your daughter is an accident-prone “klutz.” Write statements to help free her from this label.
|a. Ask her to do something that takes coordination.
b. Describe a time when she didn’t fall.
c. Describe what she did well.
10. Your children are arguing in the back seat. As usual, it’s the same one picking on his favorite victim, his older sister. Help free both of them from their roles.
|a. Express confidence in the “bully’s” ability to get along.
b. Encourage the “victim” to be assertive.
11. Name the quality, using the formula: “You (describe). That must have taken (quality).”
|a. Your child returned your tools to the toolbox, for once.
b. Your daughter styled her hair in a fancy braid.
|12. Your son and daughter are cleaning their rooms. Your son finishes first and did a good job. Your daughter is getting distracted and hasn’t accomplished much. Say something to each, without comparing to the other.|
|a. What would you say to your son, who’s done?
b. What would you say to your daughter, who’s not done?
13. At a baseball game, your child is daydreaming in the outfield. If you shout something, what will you say?
14. Your child wants to run for class office. Encourage her without focusing on winning.
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Activity for the Week
Use your family members’ names and information to fill the blanks. Tell them these statements sometime this week.
“I like the way you ___________________. Will you help us by ________________?”
“Thanks for doing ____________________. It ____________________________.”
(describe how it helped you or the family)
Something __________________ does well is __________________________.
Something __________________ accomplished this week is __________________.
Something __________________ did that helped someone is __________________.
Something __________________ did that took courage is __________________.
One way ____________ has improved in ____________ is ________________.
(name) (skill) (describe)
A good habit __________________ has is __________________.
Something _____ did for me this week that I never thanked him/her for is ______.
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|a. “Here, will you carry this for me?” (Select a non-breakable object for this.)
b. “Remember how you stepped off the escalator at the store the last time? We can count 1-2-3 again, if you like.”
c. “Thanks for putting that bowl of mashed potatoes on the table. It’s pretty heavy. You must have used those muscles of yours.”
Use descriptive encouragement in your daily interactions with children and adults. You can find many ways to build self-esteem in your children, other family members, co-workers, friends, and even strangers. When you notice the good in others and point it out to them, they blossom before your eyes. Feel free to work with these skills for a week before reading the next chapter.
Chapter 5, “Cooperation Toolset,” is most parents’ favorite chapter. In it we learn many four-star tools that can prevent the power struggles most parents face. Life is smoother when we work with our children as members of the family team. We reach win/win solutions by offering choices within the limits we set using positive words. Most parents see immediate results from these tools—their attitudes change and so does their children’s behavior.
- How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Avon Books, 1982) p. 181–183.
- For more information on freeing children from roles and labels, see How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (Avon Books, 1982) and Siblings Without Rivalry (Norton Books, 1987), by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
- “Select Teams’ Goals Bench Some Kids,” by Susan Vinella, Dayton Daily News, July 7, 1997.
- The Parent’s Handbook (S.T.E.P.: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting), by Donald Dinkmeyer and Gary D. McKay, (American Guidance Service, Third Edition 1989) p. 39.
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