Children will often say negative things about themselves because they want and actually need a tremendous amount of attention and recognition to develop a healthy sense of self. The problem is that they don’t really know how to go about getting that positive feedback in a positive way.
Dear Diana, I have a very intelligent, beautiful 4-year-old. Recently, I have noticed that she is becoming more and more negative, however. For example, she drew the letter “R” and elbowed me to see it. It was a really good “R,” and I told her, “That’s a really good ‘R,’ I like it!” She said, “No it’s not! It’s stupid!” I didn’t push it, I just said, “Well I like it.” I want to turn this around and try to help her be more positive! Any advice?
Dear Mom of a 4-year-old, Think carefully about anything that is different since she started verbalizing negatively that you can address and help her sort through. Often times, a new situation (a new baby, moving, transition to a new school) can provoke insecurity or a change in behavior. Sometimes, there may not appear to be any reason, but you can still make an impact without knowing what has caused a downturn, by raising her self-esteem.
Children will often say negative things about themselves because they want and actually need a tremendous amount of attention and recognition to develop a healthy sense of self. The problem is that they don’t really know how to go about getting that positive feedback in a positive way. When you say “I like your ‘R’!” and she says, “It’s stupid!,” she is attempting to engage you further, to “dance” — to have you continue to convince her, to hear you insist that her “R” is beautiful. It’s great that you did not do that, but kept your response simple, “Well, I like it,” and ended the conversation. “Dancing” can become an expected and learned behavior, if she were to become successful in receiving convincing compliments about her beautiful work.
Those who try to convince a child that their work is wonderful, with the child rejecting the compliment, will end up “training” or teaching their child to respond in that way, because they won’t have learned any other way to find positive acknowledgments. Additionally, children and many adults aren’t comfortable, or don’t know how to accept a compliment. Teaching your daughter to accept a compliment at 4, with a polite, “Thank you,” might put her years ahead of her peers, and also help her to feel better about herself. Come up with a little signal, such as a hand squeeze or a little wink, when she needs a reminder to say thanks.
If negativity is your main concern, focus on everything positive that she does throughout the day. If she puts the cap back on the toothpaste say, “I noticed you took the time to put the cap back onto the toothpaste.” If she plays nicely with her sibling say, “I just love to watch how nicely you play with your sister.” Find things that she is doing well, and remark on them with one sentence and a simple touch. Don’t over do it, or go on and on with compliments, or your recognition will become worthless and unimportant. When you recognize behaviors with one sentence, remarking on the exact behavior that you saw, that behavior will continue.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702. Find additional parenting resources at Boggia’s