Esteem Building Communication

Esteem building comments are a wonderful boost to a child’s self of competency and a large part of the way, Play Therapists communicate with children in the play room. However, parents are well able to adopt this style of communication with their child and both your relationship with your child and your child’s self -esteem will benefit greatly.

It is one thing hearing a therapist validate a child’s sense of worth and capability but imagine if such morale boosting and positive responses were coming from the most important person in a child’s life, their parent, then it is all the more powerful and effective.

The behaviour of children is largely a function of how they feel about themselves, so it is with intention that I respond to children in ways that enhances their self-esteem. An esteem building response gives the child credit for knowing or doing. Recognising and responding to a child’s effort and energy enhances their sense of self and allows them to feel like they have some control.

“Praise the process not the product”

The phrase “praise the process, not the product” is a critical part of a child’s learning journey that can be misunderstood or forgotten by parents and teachers.

Children are frequently told that they are smart if they do well in a test; if they do a painting or make craft. They may hear “that’s great, I love it” – in other words we are saying positive and complimentary comments about “the product”; the end result i.e. the test result, the picture, the birthday card they made, the art project, the story they created. By praising the product, we are not praising the most important part of the product and that is the effort or the process that created the product. Hearing that the product is good or nice or pretty or a great mark is not enough. Those adjectives don’t describe their ideas, or application of knowledge, or how hard they must have concentrated or studied for the test, or how much effort they put into that homework piece that got a gold star.

The product is not the important part of the experience that needs to be complimented. It is the process, because a child’s effort is something they can control. Sometimes we are what we are and that can be hard to change. A child may have been “born smart”, likewise they may have been born with learning or physical challenges. These attributes can be difficult to alter. However, effort, initiative, energy to a task and endeavour can always be improved. Hearing the effort being acknowledged and praised, sends a message that this is something a child can control, and it was their own effort that resulted in the “great mark or product.”

A response like “Wow your smart”, tells a child exactly that- that they are smart! Instead, comments like; “You must have concentrated so hard in that test, or practiced your times tables so well, or really thought about that answer/story or spent so long on that homework, or tried so hard, or applied what you have been taught, or listened really well or worked well with the other members of the group are far more effective responses.

Praise the process not the product” – or do both but don’t focus only on the end result.

More specifically, self -esteem building statements help children experience themselves as capable when we respond to their efforts.

When your child struggles with a task and then accomplishes it, you might say “there, you figured that out”. This can be applied to anything from opening a lid to completing a maths equation; even sleeping through the night or staying in their bed; “You’ve worked out how to stay in your bed all night. You know exactly what helps/ works/ what you need to do it”.

Other possible esteem building responses might be:

  • You made that just the way you wanted it to be
  • You’re working hard on that
  • You know how to make that work.
  • You have something in mind.
  • Looks like you know how to….
  • You remembered where that was.
  • You decided…
  • You know just how you want it to look.
  • You really figured that out.
  • You knew exactly what you needed to do
  • You worked it out!

Esteem building responses empower children to feel capable, facilitate development of their sense of self which builds intrinsic motivation, lessening the need for external rewards and motivators. When a child frequently hears that they were the one who “worked out what to do”, they hold onto that notion and have the confidence to apply their skills, knowledge and understandings, to all aspects of their life.