THE POWER OF THE POSITIVE WORD
We hear plenty about child abuse in the modern media. Often unacknowledged by anyone, verbal abuse is the most common of all forms and has a devastating impact on the self-concept. Just so you’ll know it when you see it, verbal abuse is just about any put-down, insult or threat. It’s an assertion of negativity and severe disapproval, delivered in a disrespectful fashion.
The opposite of verbal abuse is the positive comment. Its effect on self-esteem is just as powerful. And it’s so easy!
Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your children is your appreciation for who they are. Yes, that’s right, simply recognizing who they are and what they do. I’m sure we often overlook opportunities to admire our children. Or, when we do think well of them we neglect to tell them so. It is our admiration that they crave more than anything else. They need adults to validate them, to tell them they’re good just the way they are.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not recommend rewarding mediocrity. There has been too much of this lately in our culture. We’ve tried to level the playing field for those who don’t have as much to offer. But a trophy is just so much junk if everyone gets one just for showing up. In this way we are dumbing down our society to the lowest common denominator.
If we want our children to value and strive for excellence, we must reserve our highest praise for that. We would do well to keep pointing the way to superlative performance and we should really be pleased and show it when it appears. But not every child is going to perform superlatively on every occasion. We should not go crazy over a middling performance unless it’s a significant improvement over what came before.
But admiration does not have to be tied to some level of performance. If a child learns she is valued just for existing and that her individual qualities are appreciated, that child will grow up to feel good about who she is, will respect herself and be prepared to thrive in life. Thriving is more likely when we expect it to happen. You don’t get a trophy for thriving but it’s still a pretty good thing when it happens.
How do you deliver positivity? Giving kisses and hugs is great and so is saying “I love you.” But, by recognizing and verbally appreciating your child’s individual and unique nature when it appears (and it will!) you can deliver a more personalized message, one that contributes to a stable sense of well-being and a satisfying feeling that “I am good. And I can do good. And people will recognize (and love) me for it.” Knowing that he can win your admiration and love just by being himself, your child will grow up with a healthy ego and a sense of self-trust. He will have less need to win others’ recognition by acting-up or acting-out. And that will lead to better behavior all around.
Freud said that the measure of mental health is the ability to both love and work. We are not complete doing just one or the other and a healthy sense of self is the most critical element for achieving in both areas. You can contribute to your child’s ultimate success through the power of your positive words. Just tell them they’re good once in a while. They’ll believe it when you see it.