(CMR) Parents want their children to always be at their best behavior and often punish them when they are not. However, the way we punish our children may affect their self-esteem.
Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, in an article for the website Parents, said children need to learn from their mistakes, but parents should hold them accountable without making them feel like bad kids.
She said one of parents' most important jobs is to teach their children how to be in relationships. Children need to understand the ways their actions affect other people and which behaviors others will and won’t tolerate.
“Feeling guilty if they’ve done something wrong is a part of moral development. It helps them develop the internal barometer that tells them, “Ooh, I messed up,” so they’ll want to make amends. Healthy guilt is not the same as feeling ashamed or worthless,” Dr. Kennedy-Moore stated.
She explained that some kids are extra sensitive to criticism or prone to low self-esteem. Although the standard advice is to criticize a child’s behavior rather than the child, most kids can’t hear the difference. Adults can rationalize—“I did one bad thing, but overall, I’m a pretty good person.” Kids are black-and-white thinkers. When they’re confronted with having done something bad, they feel awful.
Dr. Kennedy-Moore suggests that the best approach to disciplining children is a three-step strategy that she calls “soft criticism.” She said this strategy also works well with partners and coworkers.
The soft criticism strategy as presented by Dr. Kennedy-Moore:
Step One: Offer an excuse for his behavior. Start by saying, “I know you didn’t mean to,” or “You probably didn’t realize,” or “I get that you were trying to.” This tells him that you know he’s a good kid and has good intentions even when he messes up.
Step Two: Tell her what she did wrong and how it affected others. Say, “When you hit your brother, his arm hurt a lot.” It may be tempting to add, “You always treat him that way” or “You don’t care enough about other people’s feelings,” but you won’t make your point clearer by convincing her of her badness.
Step Three: Move forward. Kids can’t undo what they’ve already done, and we don’t want to leave them stuck feeling badly about themselves. Ask your child questions to help him come up with a plan for making things right, such as, “What can you do to help your brother feel better?” Depending on the situation, you can suggest possible ways to make amends. This could involve apologizing, comforting, sharing, cleaning up, or doing a chore, such as sorting the recycling. In the broadest sense, if your kid did something to hurt the family, then he can do something to help the family. And when he does something kind or helpful to make amends, express genuine appreciation.
Motivating your kids to behave well
Dr. Kennedy-Moore indicated that it is important for parents to let children know it’s possible to please them. She suggests parents do this by recognizing efforts and progress. Forgetting what the child did wrong is also one of the most generous things you can do as a parent, Dr. Kennedy-Moore said.
She stated that children are changing so rapidly that whatever your child did last month was practically done by an entirely different person, so there’s no reason to bring it up again.
Dr. Kennedy-Moore said parents could also talk about how their child is growing or becoming by highlighting the positives. “You and your brother did a good job of working out how to share the back seat. You are becoming better at negotiating and compromising” or “You helped show the new kid at school how to use the computer. You are becoming the kind of person who can see a need and step in to help.”
She said that “the language of becoming is so powerful is that it says to your kid, “Never mind if you’ve messed up in the past, and never mind if you mess up tomorrow. Right here, right now, I see evidence for hope.” What a beautiful gift to give to a child.”