Do you know what’s the tricky part about parenting? It is not the difficult child, but a parent’s ability to communicate effectively with their child in a problematic situation. How you speak to your child, your choice of words, your tone, everything will build their personality and self-esteem.
Why does self-esteem matter?
Your opinion of yourself is called self-esteem — it is how you think and feel about yourself. A healthy or good self-esteem is a realistic assessment and acceptance of our strengths and limitations. It doesn’t mean we are full of ourselves, but that we respect and accept ourselves. The connection between your self-esteem and what you get out of life is very crucial. Individuals with good self-esteem are open to trying new things, know what their abilities are and progress towards goals.
Low self-esteem doesn’t come out of the blue. At some point, you learned that you weren’t quite good enough just as you are. Often, this is a message that gets internalised during your formative years. It could be from critical and/or authoritarian parenting, school experiences, being bullied, and just not receiving enough positive messages from a loved one.
Below are four most commonly used phrases that you end up saying things to get them to listen to you, maybe to motivate them or shake them up and sometimes to vent out your angst & frustration. However, research suggests these have quite the opposite effect on individuals causing more hurt than you can comprehend.
“Why can’t you be like your sister or brother?” – wherein the other person is more intelligent, obedient, better looking, immensely talented and so on. Often said by parents thinking they are motivating their child, this is a self-esteem killer and also leads to sibling rivalry. Each child has their own unique traits, comparing them to their siblings, cousins and classmates only makes them feel unwanted and left out. They value themselves lower than others and think they’re not-good-enough.
“You are a bad girl or bad boy” – rather than just labelling them as being “bad” or “irresponsible”, you could talk about the behaviour or action they have exhibited and the immediate consequences. Children are innocent beings who thrive on love, happiness, care and affection. Use positive comments to uplift them instead, for example, “Forgetting your school homework was an irresponsible action. What will help you remember next time?”
“Girls don’t play with this/Boys don’t play with that” – Have you ever noticed a young boy playing with his own kitchen set or receiving it as a birthday gift? Or, for that matter, a young girl playing with boxing gloves or being gifted the same? Probably not. But don’t you see chefs in restaurants who are male? Yes, of course you do! We certainly know some brilliant professional female boxers closer home. Then, why are we creating these gender stereotypes in children? Let your child play with what they want and let their creativity soar. Constricting them is only blocking their mind and potential.
“Why did I have a child like you?” – If your child is very naughty, does not listen to you or throws regular tantrums, it can frustrate any parent. However, remind yourself you brought the child into this world, and you are all they have. The child is a reflection of their surroundings – look at yourselves, other caregivers, and people in close contact with your child and identify where the issues could arise from. Fix the problem rather than causing it to deteriorate further and have a lasting impact.
To conclude, just like fingers are different in size and their prints can never be the same, each child has exceptional skills, passions, and experiences that no one else in the world has. Always remember this simple point — what you say and do today, your child will repeat the same tomorrow.
You can teach them to be better by choosing encouraging words today, so you have a motivated and happy adult tomorrow!
(Shubhika Singh is a senior consultant psychologist specialising in young adults and the co-founder of Innerkraft.com based in Kolkata. Beginning today, her column will appear every fortnight)