Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn is a wonderful book that illustrates “mindful parenting.” Mindful parenting is a way of listening to our children in a manner that makes them feel valued. It also helps parents learn to prioritize the time we spend with our children. We can help our children to clarify, express, and understand their feelings more completely, thereby giving them the confidence to express their feelings more fully in the future – with us as well as with others.
Offer your children choices and support them taking “healthy” risks – risks that allow them to expand their experience without endangering themselves. This helps them gain confidence in their ability to make decisions; it also helps children recognize that you have faith in their judgment, which enhances their self-worth. Encouragement for taking healthy risks expands your child’s world and helps them learn more about the areas in which they might be skilled.
When children engage in these new and challenging activities, don’t reach in and “save” the child from any potential frustration. Constantly rescuing your child from any frustration will foster continued dependence and diminish your child’s confidence and self-esteem.
Exploring new activities always provides the potential for failure, but without risk there is no opportunity for success. Accepting, recovering and learning from mistakes sends an important message to your child. It tells them it’s OK not to be perfect all the time, and will increase their ability to explore new things with more confidence.
Children have the highest self-esteem when they perform competently in areas that are important to them. Without the exploration of new activities and the expansion of known activities, children will not be able to identify newfound areas of value and competence. It’s very much like your child trying a new food she is tentative or even squeamish about but then it quickly becomes one of her favorites. Always keep encouraging exploration in your child.
There is a world of difference between encouragement and praise. Praise rewards the success of the task while encouragement rewards the effort of the person. “Look what you have accomplished – you must be very proud of yourself” – is very different from “that’s a pretty picture – I’m proud of you”.
Too much praise from adults can cause a child to become a “praise junkie” – the “Good job! Good job!” Syndrome. Children praised or rewarded constantly will only perform tasks they know will result in external, adult approval; this in turn diminishes their self-esteem by creating pressure to “perform” with a continual need for approval from others. So encourage freely and often, and praise and reward minimally.
Just as the in the classic children’s story “The Little Engine That Could”, the Little Blue Engine’s belief in herself allowed her to achieve because “she thought she could”. With encouragement from parents, our children can develop this belief and sense of achievement and self-worth. Once our children think they can, they will.
Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. He is available for group speaking engagements.
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