The stories we tell about our children in their presence shapes their self-image. Your children believe you, they believe what you think — and it becomes their reality. If your children hear you frequently telling others how they get in trouble at school it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you talk about how they do not listen, they will meet these low expectations. The narrative your children have about themselves is formed from many different places, but the most impactful of all these ingredients come from you, their parents.

If you want your children to believe in themselves, tell them (and show them) that you believe in them. Let them overhear you telling good stories about them. Let them hear you tell your friends what a good job they did, that despite difficulties, they never give up. And even though they were tired, they always work hard to still behave themselves.

If your child struggles with their self-esteem, consider taking these steps:

Say to them, “Honey, do you remember earlier this week when we couldn’t figure out how to do this? I was really proud of you when you decided to continue problem-solving. Thank you for taking the time to think about it and to share your feelings. You ‘re really very smart and you’re very good at creative thinking. Once you came up with that idea, it all worked, thank you.”

You could also say, “Yesterday your teacher said that everyone had a really hard time figuring out the math problem, but you were one of the few kids who did not give up and kept trying. You tried different ideas when your first ideas didn’t work. She said that because you persevered you were able to solve the problem. Good job sticking to it.”

If social situations are your child’s area of difficulty, this same approach will work.

Their positive behaviors will be reinforced if you take the time and attention to in pointing out their efforts. Reminding them of the steps they have to take to be successful and praising any of the steps they take towards that end, will solidify their improved behavior.

One child I work with frequently gets in trouble in both in school and at home for throwing things at parents and teachers. He’s violent in front of younger siblings and he disregards adults when they’re speaking. When I walk into his home each week I tell him I appreciate how good of a listener he is, how he always follows directions, how he ‘s great at thinking, and not giving up. Although I’ve seen only glimmers of these positive behaviors, I continue to mention them each time I walk into his house and he shows me these exact improved behaviors. His parents are shocked! We are changing his narrative! I praise him for any positive actions. I’m able to identify and repeat this positive reinforcement to show him all the good things he does. He has one narrative for other times of his life and a very different and positive narrative when he ‘s with me. I hope to start working with his parents to share methods to help to continue to change his narrative.

It comes down to this: If you tell your children how poorly behaved they are — watch them continue to be poorly behaved. Conversely, when you point out their positive steps — watch them continue to exhibit them. I am not suggesting that we only look for the positives, however, re-framing their self-talk will fundamentally change their behavior for the rest of their lives.

If you’re struggling with your child’s low self-esteem or poor behavior, I encourage you to send me an email or give me a call, and I will provide step-by-step methods for reframing their narrative. We can work together for one session, or we can work together for a month at a time. Ensuring your child ‘s positive self-narrative is one of the most important things a parent can do.

In summary, if psychology has taught us anything, it is that humans (and most animals) respond vastly better to positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement. Nowhere is this principle truer than with parenting.

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