The positive self esteem movement has created parents who build up their children constantly. Not just in the relatively benign, “Great job!” way, but more along the lines of “You are the most perfect child who has ever lived!” Now studies are finding these types of statements can actually do more harm than good.
We don’t think of the positive statements we make to our kids as capable of causing any damage to them. Yet, the wrong positive words can create inflated egos, a sense of entitlement and even extreme disappointment when they compare reality to their parents’ proclamations.
So what are some positive things parents should avoid saying to their kids?
- That is the best ….. ever! All kids are great. Realistically though, less than 5% are going to be outstanding at any given thing. Making them believe they are going to be in that 5%, when it is obvious they are no where even close to that, sets up all sorts of issues for the future. It’s fine to encourage your kids. Look for specific things to complement like, “I love how you used so much color in your painting.” Or compliment them on their growth and improvement. You don’t have to pretend they are the best at something in order to encourage them.
- You can do anything you put your mind to. I understand the intention of that statement. Hard work and persistence can sometimes help you achieve your goals. But there is also some realism involved. I never did learn how to swim well at all. Trying to make me believe I could be in the Olympics would have been borderline cruel (if I had believed it) and set me up for disappointment as I continued to struggle. Christian parents also need to make their kids very aware that God has a plan for their lives and they need to follow that. Even though they may be able to do something, doesn’t mean that it is best for them spiritually or in God’s plans for their lives.
- You are better than him, her or them. Once again, as an adult I understand the message is to not engage in poor behaviors just because others have chosen to do so. What young people often hear though is that they are literally better than other people for some reason. If you do believe some people are more worthy of God’s love and your love than others, please do some serious soul searching. Don’t pass on those attitudes to your children.
- They are just jealous of you. This is often said to comfort a child who has had a peer treat them badly. While sometimes it may be true, it isn’t always the case. This statement can backfire in any number of ways, if the real reason is something different. It’s better to have discussions about how God wants us to treat people who would consider themselves to be our enemies.
- It doesn’t really matter if you… Fill in the blank – read their Bible, go to Church every week, pray, have Christian friends, participate in things that will help them grow spiritually… the list goes on and on. Downplaying the importance of working on their spiritual health and growth can cause young people to stop growing spiritually altogether. Some will even reject God as being unnecessary in their lives. Your kids should always hear you reinforce them when they want to do something to grow spiritually – even if it can’t logistically happen for some reason.
What parents consider positive words can cause damage to your kids, too. Think carefully before you speak positive words. They need your encouragement. They don’t need hyperbole or downplaying things that can help them grow.