Write me: rebecca@positive-parents.org

“Be mindful of the language you use to describe your children. They will come to see themselves through that filter you design.” – Lori Petro, TEACH Through Love

Words are powerful. Words are especially powerful when said by parents to their children. The words we use to describe our children become a part of their self concept, and their behavior is based on their self concept. Consider these words from this article:

Our actions have deep roots on what we think and how we perceive self. Self concept has a big influence on our behavior. Behavior pattern decides actions. Stable or unstable self concept, it is a motivating force in a persons behavior…It is worth at this moment to connect the influence of our word we use to call some little ones as ‘dumb’, ‘donkey’ etc. We just casually call and forget, but those words have big impact on little minds. Some school children study below their capacities because they have learned at home and from other members of friend circle to think themselves as dumb.

I love this article , which talks about how what we think about our children often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It says this:

If we have a positive view of our children they are likely to feel the same about themselves.

It goes on to say this, which I think is so important for parents to understand:

Children will have a much easier time valuing themselves if they are valued by their parents. Dorothy Briggs, the author of Your Child’s Self Esteem, says that parents are like a mirror, creating the child’s self image. We reflect back to them who we think they are and they take it in as the absolute truth. They are not critical of our evaluation of them until they get much older, when the damage is largely done.

I was in the salon a couple of weeks ago, and a mother had her son there with her. She was telling everyone in the shop how difficult and bratty he has been all summer. The boy hung his head low, and I wish I’d had the courage to tell her how she was destroying his self concept, but I didn’t. I often hear parents belittling their children right in front of them, using hurtful words like “mean” or “brat.” Even if they never actually say these words to their children, the way they think about their kids influences the way they treat their kids, and the children will pick up on that. From What Does Your Child Look Like:

The way we ‘frame’ a situation, or a person, heavily influences our interactions. If we consistently see our children as frustrating impediments in what would otherwise be a well-ordered life, then every interaction with our children will be marred by that default view. Such a view promotes a deficit-orientation towards a family. It reduces motivation on the part of parents to help their ‘good-for-nothing’ ‘bratty’ ‘ungrateful’ children. And unsurprisingly, such an approach is hardly inspiring for children. They feed off the negativity of parental perception and typically live up to precisely what is expected of them… which is not much.

That mother in the salon was actually feeding her son’s misbehavior because she was making that a part of his self concept.

I understand we aren’t perfect parents, and sometimes something may slip off our tongues that we regret saying. In those instances, apologize and reaffirm to your child your love and belief in him. Positive parenting does not require us to be perfect, but it does require us to be mindful. Be mindful not only of the words you say, but of the thoughts you think. Reframe negative thoughts and purposefully look for and appreciate the positives in your children. Tell them how kind, capable, and wonderful you think they are. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child will never be found under the Christmas tree: A healthy self concept.

“If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.” – Dr. Haim Ginott


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  • Tasha Batsford Posted 28 August 2011 11:49

    It's so wonderful to finally find a place where my thoughts and feelings as a mother are reflected and explored.

    I was trying to say something similar here http://maybe-diaries.blogspot.com/2011/08/futility-of-naughty.html albeit a lot less eloquently!

  • Lisa Posted 28 August 2011 12:07

    It is through language that we give meaning to our lives. When I went through orientation years ago, at an organization that supports people with special needs, we did an exercise that illustrated how powerful words are. Two paragraphs, describing the same turn of events with an imaginary client, one written negatively, and the other, reframed in a positive way. Which do you think made us feel drained before our imaginary shift began? And which empowered us to solve problems and work with our client? I am sure you know. The lesson often comes to mind. Words make a world of difference.

  • Becky Posted 31 August 2011 6:55

    Thank you Tasha.

    Lisa, this is so true! Words do make a world of difference!

  • jamalogist Posted 30 November 2011 9:26

    Discipline that includes words that reinforce a child's negative self-concept of themselves, will simply create more bad behavior in the future. Nurturing a positive self-concept by taking opportunity to encourage a child's small wins, will instead prevent future bad behavior by being at odds (i.e. creating cognitive dissonance) with the positive self-concept we helped create.

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