We all want to nurture a positive self image in our children but sometimes are unsure of how to go about it. Guest writer Viki de Lieme from ParentsEnlight shares with us a simple but powerful practice to strengthen your child’s self esteem as well as build your relationship!
Helping our little ones build a positive self image and a strong self esteem is much more than praise; here is a simple, yet mindful practice that will enrich your daily activities, empower your child, and even help grow their vocabulary.
Strengthen Your Child’s Self Esteem and Positive Self Image
Mindfulness is on the top of the list of traits somewhat lacking in modern parenting. We’re busy, we have so much to do and so little time, and thus so many parents resort to praise whenever their children engage in a desired activity. Praise however, was already proven problematic.
When Possible, Avoid Praising Your Child
Children’s brains are different than adults’ brains in so many ways. They lack the knowledge and experience that we, adults, have already acquired. They lack the ability to evaluate and judge words, instead – they feel our words. What we process through our brains, children process through their hearts. And this means a whole lot about the way children experience words, about the way they fathom our words.
When a child is doing something he is truly enjoying (drawing, building), or something that his heart told him to do (help you around the house, bring you a glass of water), he is following his internal motivation to get his needs met – either his need for creativity and entertainment or his need for love and connection. Whatever it was that he did – he did it for himself, even when his deeds ended up pleasing you. We are, all of us, selfish that way. We want to make others happy – because it makes us happy.
What Really Happens When We Praise a Child?
Praise is a motivation shifter. Praise takes inner motivations and shifts them into external motivations. If the child was happily drawing to meet his own needs, he will now know that when he draws your needs are met, too. And thus next time, instead of following his heart to the canvas, he will consider your needs, too. And if you’re not that connected that day? If meeting your needs doesn’t meet his own needs at the moment, the canvas might end up white and deserted.
More often than not, what we consider as confidence building (good boy! You got this!) and self image boosting (I told you you can make it!) is actually everything but that.
So How Can You Boost Your Child’s Self Esteem?
The practice I’m sharing with you now is one of my favorite mindful parenting practices, because with so little – it achieves so much. I advise parents to children of all ages to begin using these cards, yet it is best practiced with children over 4 who can play this game, too. To practice this, you’ll need to hold on to your praises (I know it’s hard, kids are so great!) and set 5 minutes each evening to discuss your day with your little one using this mindful tweak on gratitude cards.
Gratitude Cards – With a Mindful Tweak
Usually gratitude cards are used to thank people for doing, in our case – these cards thank our little ones for being. All you need to do is print these cards out and laminate them (just so they would live longer). Then, at bedtime, or any other moment of peaceful connection, take the cards out and put your day’s experiences into positive traits. Not only that your little one will learn the true meaning of his actions, but he would also learn the proper names for his inner needs. Your gratitude towards his deeds will teach him how proud you are of him, but it will achieve that through his heart, without that switch in motivations.
In addition to naming the trait behind the deed, you can ask your little one which other traits were involved in the same did, you can ask him to switch and find the traits he recognized in your deeds today, you can ask him how these deeds made him feel and stress that pleasant deeds derive pleasant emotions. There are, really, endless possibilities to this card game, all of which boost your child’s self esteem and positive self image by touching his very heart, and enhancing the connection between the two of you.
Here are a few examples taken from conversations I had with my own son:
Lately my little one is all about picking up his toys, putting dishes into the sink, turning lights off and whatnot. Everything we were modeling for the past three years if finally showing 🙂 At bedtime (I always do this during bedtime) I brought out the cards and told him how responsible it is of him to put everything back in place (surely there was more detail in our actual conversation), and how proud I am for his growing sense of responsibility.
He then said “responsibility? I am responsible”? We named the trait, made him feel good about what he had done, and made him acknowledge is strength – on his own.
When taking extra time to build the “perfect” (to him) tower, or complete a more challenging puzzle, I thank him for his perseverance. Especially if there were a few “failures” on the way. This teaches him that not making it is a huge part of eventually making it, it teaches him that practice makes perfect, and it teaches him that hard work gets things done. Whenever the perseverance card is pulled out, I always ask him how completing the task made him feel, and whether this pleasant feeling was worthy of the unpleasant feeling the “failure” caused him. By now he already knows that he is perseverent (he says it himself), a trait that will follow him for the rest of his life, and that small “failures” are a part of the big picture of success.
The authenticity card is definitely one of my favorite cards. We live in a world where most children (and adults, too) are catering to the needs and feelings of others, on the expense of their own. Mindfulness is about being present, with ourselves, at every given moment. Being authentic to ourselves, and expressing ourselves authentically. I pull this card out when my little one tells me what he thinks, what he wants, and what he doesn’t want (whether I like it or not). Not too many kids out there are thanked and appreciated for not hugging aunt Sophie when they don’t want to – yet the ability to refuse an activity that doesn’t meet our needs is one of the most important abilities when these little ones enter their teen years and beyond. “No” saves lives and there’s no better time to teach this, than now.
Generosity had gone unnoticed, yet all kids are naturally generous (because making their friends/parents happy meets their need for connection). The more we celebrate it, the more we put an emphasis on their natural generosity, the better are our chances of raising truly generous adults, who give from their hearts and for the sake of giving (rather than from their brains and with the hope of receiving).
When my little one candidly offers his friends his own snacks, and especially when he gives out everything he has – without leaving anything for him (yes – that happens) – he later on finds true pride in being generous.
Celebrate Your Child’s Strengths, Every Day
This mindful activity is a powerful activity to enhance children’s positive self image and boost their self esteem. They love playing with the cards, learning the words, and looking for the deeds that fit those words. They love learning who they are, the love learning that all this positivity comes from within, they love learning how proud these traits of theirs make us feel.
Parents’ Role in Children’s Positive Self Image and Strong Self Esteem
Kids believe what we tell them. This is how it works, and this is why a positive, mindful language is the single most important tool we have in our children’s education. The more positive words we use, the more mindful we are about our own actions and about the actions of our little ones, the easier it will be for us to keep the deep connection and attachment with our children.
Is there anything else that we, really, want?
This deck of Gratitude Cards includes 20 of the most powerful and empowering traits: authenticity, compassion, courageousness, fairness, forgiveness, honesty, initiation, integrity, kindness, lovingness, loyalty, modesty, optimism, patience, perseverance, reliability, sensitivity, and responsibility. The cards are 14.8*10.5 cm and are optimized for print. Get your link, email it to the nearest photography store, ask for laminated cards and pick them up within the hour. It’s totally worth it 🙂
You can download your cards (for free) from ParentsEnlight and start practicing this amazing confidence and self esteem boosting activity.
About the Author
Viki de Lieme is the owner and head coach at ParentsEnlight. A Nonviolent Communication specialist, a human rights activist, attachment parenting advocate, and a firm believer in a better future through mindful parenting.