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Kids have a lot of rules to follow. Rules at home, rules at school and rules out in the community, to name a few. With all of the rules and following directions that occur in the life of a child, kids can get caught up in measuring themselves as "good" or "bad" based on praise or consequences for following rules. When they constantly receive input based on these standards, they begin to develop core beliefs about themselves. For example, a child who hears that he is constantly off-task in the classroom might begin to feel that he is incapable of being on task. When children develop negative core beliefs, they struggle to meet their goals and find happiness.
There is good news on this front, though. New research suggests that small changes to the way we speak to kids can help children develop positive core beliefs. In this particular study, 100 preschoolers were inspired to be helpful by listening to a talk about helping or by listening to a talk about being a "helper." The preschoolers who heard the talk about being helpers helped out 20 percent more than the preschoolers who heard the talk about helping. Bottom line: Being viewed as a helper is more appealing to little ones than simply helping out.
This comes as no surprise, really. It feels good to be viewed in a positive light. It feels good to have others acknowledge that you are, in fact, a good person. So how do we take this information and use it to help children develop positive core beliefs? We start by focusing on the positive.
Praise is always a hot topic in the world of parenting. There are those who feel that kids receive too much praise and those who feel that praise is always a positive. It's time to stop over-thinking praise. It feels good to have hard work, positive actions and good character noticed by others. When we build kids up, they are more successful. Try not to get caught up in how much is too much and focus your energy on building your child up for positive actions and character traits, instead.
When you praise a child's character, that child develops positive core beliefs. Sure, kids know when they are kind, compassionate and empathic, but praising positive character traits shows kids that others believe those things about them, too. That is a very powerful feeling and it encourages children to continue to utilize those positive character traits.
Kids are notorious for running up to parents with a finished product looking for a compliment. They want to know that you know that they worked really hard on that finished product and that it's important to them. So why not give them what they're really looking for? Instead of gushing over the painting of a rainbow (likely the third one that day), try focusing on the work that went into it. Talk about color choice, brush strokes and design. Talk about the effort it must have required to plan and paint that work of art.
When you praise hard work and comment on the fact that your child is a hard worker (versus an artist), your child hears that he is capable of completing an interesting project by relying on hard work. Your child walks away feeling capable (instead of thinking he's the best artist in town).
It's no different for little ones.
It's tricky business, this subtle switch from verbs to nouns. And it doesn't work every single time. For example, if you consistently refer to your child as a math whiz and then he bombs his math test, he will likely beat himself up for missed questions that a "math whiz" wouldn't have missed. However, when you praise the hard work and refer to your child as a "hard-working student," your child hears that continued hard work will lead to eventual success. Likewise, try referring to your artistic child as a "creative person" to reduce the pressure for art perfection while instilling the belief that your child thinks creatively.
We all like to hear about our strengths from time to time. Positive input feels good and inspires us to keep working. It's no different for little ones. Hearing the good inspires them to continue to focus on the positive. So go ahead and ask for helpers the next time you need to clean up the toy room, your house will be spotless in no time.