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Helping children to like themselves

By Karen HoeneckeSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 18, 1985



I'm not sure how it started, but the neighborhood children were having a discussion in our yard one day. ``I like Scott and Paul and Brian and Katy,'' Becky said.

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Scott, our five-year-old, smiled, apparently happy with the knowledge that no children were being excluded from Becky's invisible list.

``You forgot to say you!'' Paul said.

``And I like myself, too!'' she added with a grin.

It's hard for children to like anyone else if they don't like themselves. Through the years, parents have asked me as an elementary teacher what they can do to help their children build a positive self-concept and to like themselves.

Just as there are many things parents can do to damage a child's self-concept, there are also some simple steps that parents can take in daily interactions to help a child look at himself and his abilities in a positive manner. The thoughts below might be of value in helping more children realize, ``I'm special -- and I like myself, too!''

Use criticism carefully. Criticism can be constructive when given to children tactfully. A statement such as ``I think there's a faster way to do that'' is easier for children to hear than ``You're doing that all wrong and you'll never finish.''

Set realistic expectations. It's hard for children to strive for improvement when they continually fall short of parental expectations. ``If you do your best, that's all we expect'' was a popular statement in our home as I grew up. That one little sentence often made me feel good about my accomplishments, but sometimes it made me feel a bit guilty and consequently prompted me to try even harder.

Help children set goals. After watching his friend one day, our five-year-old said, ``I'm going to hang upside down from the swing set just like that!'' I assured him I had no doubt that he could learn that trick, but first he should practice climbing to the top of the swing set.

It's hard for children to understand the complex yet essential process of goal setting, and often parents can help children set short-term as well as long-term goals for themselves that are both reasonable and challenging.

Distinguish reprimand from ridicule. There are numerous occasions when children need to know they've done something wrong and are being reprimanded for those actions. But do remember, while reprimand is a necessary part of a child's upbringing, belittling accomplishes nothing.

Beware of nonverbal communications. Some of the most powerful messages we give our children are unspoken. We seem to be experts at turning our backs when they're in mid-sentence, or sighing loudly at their honest mistakes, or not even glancing at them eye to eye when they rush in with an exciting account of their day at school.

Praise. All children thrive on praise, and it takes us only a few extra seconds to say, ``I'm glad you remembered to make your bed'' or ``That's a good idea -- I'm glad you thought of it.''

Believe in children. From birth, children have a strong trust and belief in parents, and we should show that same attitude toward our children.

By expressing belief in our children, we can instill in them the knowledge that they are special, productive people who have the ability to do a good job at the things they attempt and to make a difference in this world.