One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is a healthy self-esteem. When children believe that they are capable, they are more willing to try new things. They learn to believe in the possibility that they can succeed. We do them a terrible disservice when we point out what is wrong more often than what is right. A preschooler should not struggle with defeat. Preschoolers should reach for a familiar feeling of success. It is, however, human nature and a symptom of our adult preoccupation with the details that draw our attention to the negative. We are so busy that we forget to catch the little moments – the random moments - when our children do great things and praise them. It is easy to congratulate your child when they put a piece of paper in your hand and say, “Look what I made.” It is harder to find the random moments when they:
- Wait nicely in line at the supermarket – This is not easy for anyone. I know that I get impatient with the people and their price checks and their coupons. Children have an even harder time waiting. The frontal lobe of their brains are not fully developed and so they cannot resist impulse or stay still as long as an adult. When they wait nicely, tell them! Say, “You waited so patiently. You should be proud.”
- Choose their own clothes – It is highly likely that the clothes won’t match and aren’t quite right for the occasion but they chose. The point is that they boldly chose and did not wait for you. Tell them, “You should be proud that you picked your own outfit” instead of shaking your head and apologizing for the clashing colors all day long.
- Make a keen observation – Children do say the most amazing things. Just when you think they haven’t developed empathy yet, they tell you about a child who is upset. They seem to be paying no attention and then add a tidbit to a conversation that stops everyone in their tracks. Tell them how great it is when they notice something important that you missed.
- Entertain themselves – When you are parenting small children, it is always a relief when they spend some time entertaining themselves with a toy. Amusing themselves and not requiring your participation is one of the first steps of independence. Make note of it. Tell them that they should be proud of how long the spent playing with that doll or building that building.
- Walk into a building – Put that child who can walk down! Leave a little extra time if you have to but for goodness sake, let that child walk! Walking into school, the store or a friend’s house is a very grown up thing to do. It is also one of your child’s first ways to feel separation from you. Celebrate it with your child. High fives all around!
You may have noticed that in each scenario, the adult points out how proud the child should be about the action or behavior. The Random Acts of Pride aren’t about us. They are about instilling pride in your child. Children need to integrate that feeling and will do so more readily when we make it about them. They will feel good because you noticed them being well behaved or doing something praiseworthy. That feeling has a name but they don’t naturally have the words for what they feel. Commit Random Acts of Pride and help your children to identify that wonderful feeling that is a building block for positive self-image.