It’s important to help kids develop a good self-esteem. But the question is how do you reach that holy grail? Praise and positive affirmations are a common approach starting at Day 1, and it takes various forms. But you should be mindful of tossing off the standard “You’re great” and “Good job,” and aspire to do better. Why? Such common affirmations for kids are reductive, imprecise, and don’t take into account how a child may actually be feeling. Often, the words end up sounding hollow.
“Who among us stands in front of a mirror and says, ‘Gosh, I love myself?,’” says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, psychologist and author of Kid Confidence. Of course, children should feel confident, she notes. But the goal is a “quiet ego,” where there’s less self-focus. Thus, the baseline question becomes, “What gets them there?” Well, that would be building skills, gaining competence, and feeling connected to you.
There are two things that help with this pursuit. You need to present, and you need to be please-able. You can’t keep upping the expectations, Kennedy-Moore says. Praise is a component. Parents need to give it with their actions and their words. But the problem is parents often dole out positive affirmations for kids for every simple act of being. It ends up being “blather,” says Laura Kastner, family and child psychologist and author of Getting to Calm, The Early Years.
The simple solution is to talk less. When your words are well-placed and specific, they resonate, and then the cascade starts in your child’s head. They develop an internal dialogue that says, My parents, see and appreciate me. I’m good as I am. I feel secure. “It’s the confidence to try and fail so they can stretch and master,” Kastner says.
Praise still matters. But what kind of positive affirmations for kids can parents say more often? Well, there’s no one phrase that works. Every kid responds differently in general, and also at any given moment. You’re the expert so you can tell what’s needed, but the following options can help lay the groundwork.
1. “You did a good job.”
2. “You are becoming …”
3. “You’re feeling really frustrated right now.”
4. “Maybe we should take a break.”
5. “I loved that you …”
6. “How about you try the next one on your own?”
7. “I love hanging out with you.”
8. “This is new for me. I’m learning as I go.”
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