Dr. Sarah Haas *
You may be sitting back noticing behaviors that your child does that makes you feel PROUD of them. Maybe they helped another child out who was having a hard time, or maybe they received accolades from another adult, or maybe they accomplished something big or hit a milestone!
I was once at a daycare, and observed them asking their children, "What makes you feel proud?" The psychologist in was jumping up and down, thinking this was a slam dunk in helping young children build their self-esteem. Then one child responded they are proud when they eat ice cream.
What a missed opportunity! This made me realize that there are ways that we can polish this reflection of feeling proud in a way to make this question even more effective in building a stable sense of self. It can also encourage positive behaviors and indirectly discourage less appropriate behaviors. Also, for some kids who seem to over-focus on negative traits or things that happen to them, this technique may serve to flip script and encourage them to think about the positives.
1. Asking "What are you proud of yourself for doing (or not doing)"?
Asking the question directly is an important first step! Asking this question while everyone's emotions are calm can be really helpful!
One thing that is important to keep in mind is that your child may take a long time to come up with a response to this prompt, or may not come up with an answer at all. There may be a few reasons for this including: 1) They are not putting in the work to come up with a response, 2) They can't think of anything they should be proud of, or 3) They are not used to focusing on their positive qualities. The latter two are important potential interpretations of their silence - how sad is it if my child cannot think of something they should be proud of themselves for, especially when I see so many positive qualities and behaviors I am proud of them for doing? The more frequently you ask this question, the more quickly they may be able to come up with an effective response!
2. Foster responses towards stable, good, process-based internal traits.
"I'm proud I got an A in the class, mommy!" Yes, this is something to be proud of, for sure! However, this is a very outcome-based achievement, and being proud of this could foster continual outcome-based achievements. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, one way it could be better is by focusing on the process that got your child to accomplish that A. "Sweetie, it was great you got an A, but I am really proud of the fact that you worked so hard to get that A". In this way, we focus on the process--those positive, internal traits like persistence and hard work--to be the center of a child's sense of pride. Traits like persistence and hard work transcend just grades in school or achievements in one's career and reflect skills we anticipate are needed to be successful in many of life's challenges. This way, your child may not feel so disappointed when they get a B or C, because their focus is on their work ethic.
Some traits that may fit the mold of stable, good, process-based, internal traits include persistence, working hard, patience, handling strong emotions well, caring for others, independence, good decision making skills, and being helpful.
3. Ask this question every day.
Or, more realistically, as often as you can! This reinforces that your child has *something* to be proud of every single day, and they do!!!!
4. Individualize what each child should be proud of.
Individualizing is key. When your sister is getting straight A's in school and you are getting poor behavior reports back from teachers, it can feel defeating, demeaning, and you can feel a poor sense of worth. If one child has a hard time controlling impulses and often hits other people in a bout of frustration, the positive opposite can be a focus for what the child should be proud about! So if your child gets frustrated and instead of hitting the other child, s/he walked away, having a conversation about how proud they should be of themselves for handling that frustrating moment really well should be emphasized! In this way, you may encourage them to continue to handle their frustration in more meaningful and effective ways.
Try it out, and see how this works for you! Also...if you find that YOU are having a hard time coming up with positive things YOU are proud of yourself for doing today...maybe use this technique on yourself :)
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