Unfortunately, many parents don’t give their children a chance to build a positive self-concept; instead, they concentrate on their children’s weaknesses. The reason (often unknowingly), “Before my Elizabeth can be motivated to learn anything, she has to know how weak she is.” Whenever these parents talk to their children, the conversation centres on what the children are doing poorly or what they can’t do. If a child has trouble with fractions or has sloppy work habits or doesn’t pronounce syllables properly — whatever the problem — the parents let him or her know about these weaknesses continually. The result is a constant eroding of their child’s self-concept.
Think of how we, as adults, respond to a person who builds on our strengths. If someone vital to America thinks we’re the best issue since remote controls, we are going to perform like gangbusters for that person. however if that adult thinks we’re the scum of the world, we are going to in all probability ne’er prove him or wrong.
It’s the same way with kids. Kids say to themselves, I don’t become what you think I can, and I don’t become what I think I can. Then they spend most of their emotional energy looking for proof that what they think is our perception of them is correct. For example, long before Jim’s son, Charlie, developed his writing skills, his seventh-grade teacher raved about his writing potential, building him up and encouraging him. Responding to what his teacher thought he could do, Charlie worked on his writing with determination and enthusiasm and is now an accomplished psychologist, public speaker, and author of several books.
As parents, we play an integral part in the building of a positive self-concept in our children. In our words and through our actions, in how we encourage and how we model, the messages we give our kids shape the way they feel about themselves. Unfortunately, many of the really powerful messages we send our children to have covert negative meanings. We may mean well, but sometimes the words we use and the way we phrase them are received by our children as something totally different from what we meant to say. This is one of the severe tragedies of parent-child relationships.
Packs a double meaning. The overt message seems like a simple question. However, what our child hears underneath is, “You’re not very competent.” When we say, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, ” the implication is, “You’re pretty dumb, and your neurons work sluggishly.”
Such implied messages are put-downs, the kind of messages that would make us fighting mad if they were said to us by a supervisor or a coworker. We can lace these messages with as much syrup as the human voice is capable of carrying — “Now, honey, you’re not going without your coat today, are you?” — but the implied message still shines through; namely, “You’re not smart enough to know whether or not your own body is hot or cold.” The ultimate implied message says, “I’m bigger than you are. I’m more powerful than you are.
Whenever we order our children to “Shut up!” “Stop arguing!” or “Turn off the television!” we’re sending a message that slashes into their self-concept. Why is this? Because, when we give children orders, we are saying:
- “You don’t take suggestions.”
- “You can’t figure out the answer for yourself.”
- “You have to be told what to do by a voice outside your head.”
Conversely, when we parent with Love and Logic, we emphasize a powerful combination: letting our children fail in non-threatening situations while emphasizing their strengths. We must be uncritical and unprotective. Parents who raise irresponsible children do exactly the opposite! They’re critical and protective.