If you have a child who finds it easy to do lots of things, from tossing a ball to writing his or her name, it will be easy for your child to figure out how to accomplish tasks worthy of your praise. This child will learn and become aware of the kind and warm feelings he or she receives from you each day and most likely many times in one day. By this process, your child will internalize those positive vibes.
But what if you have a child for whom accomplishing things doesn’t come quite so easily? This is the child whose motor skills are not yet quite developed, so she often knocks things over. Or he may have a hard time learning to speak, write, or control impulses. These are the children who may still receive your verbal praise, but the tone of your voice and the gestures accompanying the praise may convey disappointment.
Children tune in to their parents’ nonverbal messages even more than their words. When words, tone of voice, and gestures are incongruent, your child is more likely to internalize the tone and gestures of disapproval than the words of compliment and praise. The internalized voice that is developing in your child acts to diminish rather than build up this child’s self-esteem.
There are ways to restructure interactions with children whose nervous system makes it hard for them to feel accomplished. If you take a realistic look at your child’s true, individual developmental picture, you can reset your expectations so you can enjoy genuine pleasure in your child’s very real accomplishments.
Your child will watch you to see if you are truly resonating with her excitement at the progress she makes each step of the way. If your four-year-old scribbles on a piece of paper and expresses delight, for example, clap and share in that delight. She will write her name soon enough. Be with your child where she or he is now, and share in the joy now.
Children’s self-esteem depends on whether they feel valued for all of who they are rather than whether they match some special, select group of personality traits. Enjoy your child with high regard. Your child will internalize your positive regard, and his or her sense of self-worth will continue to amplify.