Praising Children to Build Self-Esteem

February 27, 2013

Young Girl Painting

Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

Think about the difference in these two statements:

* “You are such a great artist.”
* “My heart smiles when I look at the picture you drew for me. I see you remembered that the beach is my favorite. The waves look real as they meet the sand, and I love that you remembered the color of our umbrella and chair the last time we were there.”

If you say only the first statement, you are setting your child up to look for outside validation. If you take the time to use specific praise like the second statement, the validation comes from inside the child as she hears you describe how her actions made you feel.

Specific praise takes more effort. It is much easier to take one look at a picture and say, “That is beautiful,” and then move on to your next chore. If you re-read my second statement, you will note that as the child begins to hear what you are saying, she will say to herself, “I am a good artist,” “I did a great job,” or “Mom loves my artwork.” This is your goal.

Think about it: Why do we offer words of praise? Most of us would answer that we want our children to have a healthy self-esteem. However, it is important that we understand how to best accomplish this goal. Positive words are great, but overused praise can make a child feel that he is always being judged.

The University of Minnesota Parenting Resources website has a great article on this subject: Praise That Builds a Child’s Self-Esteem . To give specific praise, describe what you see, what you hear, and how you feel. [1]

  • “I saw that you shared your toys when Mia came to visit today. You made her feel very happy.”
  • “You helped me so much by opening the door, and I also noticed how you helped the woman behind me with her boxes. Did you see the relief in her eyes when you caught that box that was about to fall?”
  • “Today was such a happy day for me because we all got to eat at the restaurant using our manners. I noticed that you had on your listening ears, you used your fork and spoon as we had practiced, and you waited for the adults to finish talking. You were very patient, and I know that you worked hard at it.”
  • “I saw you studying for your spelling test without my reminder. That made me feel so proud because I can see that you are being responsible.”

Our goal as parents is to praise our children in a manner that demonstrates specific reasons the praise is merited so they don’t feel that our love for them is conditional on our approval. This takes a little extra effort, but it is well worth it.


A Wedding, A Croup Attack, and A Lesson Learned

February 20, 2013

Parents comforting childWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

This weekend, our family met in Mississippi to attend the wedding of my beautiful niece. It was a fantastic weekend of laughter and joy, and I also learned something new that I want to share.

After the amazing wedding and hours of joy with our family, we all went to bed very late Friday night. At 2:40 a.m., my daughter and her husband ran into our bedroom with 3-year-old Ella in arms. Ella couldn’t catch her breath, and she sounded like a seal gasping for air as she tried to breathe. I knew it was an emergency, and we called 911. When the paramedics arrived, they knew right away that she was suffering a sudden onset of croup. They said she was in distress and transported her to the hospital where she spent several hours getting treatment.

It was later called a ‘croup attack’ which usually strikes in the middle of the night and affects children up to about age six. Once a child has an attack, it is likely that it will occur again. I had heard of the croup; but Ella had no fever, did not have a cold, and went to bed perfectly healthy. I had no idea that she could have an attack like that.

I have three grown children and three grandchildren, been in the field of early care and education for over 30 years, and yet I had never heard of a croup attack. I share this to make a significant point: No one knows it all. No matter how many children you have or what you have endured, life will find a way to present you with a new obstacle to overcome. I am sure that many of you know all about the croup and would have known exactly what to do had you been there with us that night. However, I had never come across nor read about a sudden croup attack.

I had no advice to offer that night except to say, “Call 911.” It’s okay to not have all the answers, and I am fine with admitting that. Don’t beat yourself up when you encounter a situation where you don’t know what to do, even if you find out that the solution is common knowledge to others. You can’t possibly know everything. Just be the best parent you can be and realize there will be MANY times that you will face things that you do not know how to handle. We ALL have blind spots … so when you don’t know what to do, ask for help.

Parenting is a journey, and it is first and foremost about building a strong relationship. My daughter nor her husband were going to give up until their baby got help. They were scared and didn’t know what to do; but Ella heard soothing, calming, whispered words of comfort the entire time. The relationship always comes first. You can find people with the knowledge to help you, but your child has only one mother, one father. Be the parent that she needs even when you are scared, searching for answers, or in pain. When you are not sure what to do on ANY matter regarding your child, seek help and focus on building and maintaining a strong relationship with her while you wait for direction.

I am so happy to report that Ella is just fine. She was treated and released a few hours later. I am also happy to report that I now know all about a croup attack. I also learned that it’s okay for even a ‘parenting expert’ to not have all the answers.

In case you are not familiar, listed below are informational websites regarding croup and croup attack:

Croup refers to an infection of the upper airway, generally in children, which obstructs breathing and causes a characteristic barking cough.

The cough and other symptoms of croup are the result of inflammation around the vocal cords (larynx), windpipe (trachea), and bronchial tubes (bronchi). When a cough forces air through this narrowed passage, the swollen vocal cords produce a noise similar to a seal barking.

Symptoms of croup often improve during the day and get worse at night. Sometimes children have croup attacks that wake them up in the middle of the night for a couple of nights in a row, but the illness usually improves gradually in 2 to 5 days.


Let Go of the Guilt

February 13, 2013

Baby's first stepsWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

I was texting with my sweet baby girl this weekend, and she was truly disappointed about something. Okay … she is about to turn 21, but she will always be my sweet baby girl. She was handling the situation admirably, but she was genuinely disappointed nonetheless.

Frankly, I panicked for a few minutes. I thought, “Oh, no! She is going to fall to pieces over this small setback.” I thought about all the mistakes I made as a parent and wished I had better equipped her for these moments in life. My mind raced through the times I moved in too quickly to fix something just so she could live in a pain-free world. Isn’t it funny how we blame ourselves for EVERYTHING our children do, even when they become adults? Perhaps you don’t have selective guilt, but I do. I am the last to take credit for the good, but the first to step up and heap on the blame when any of my children stumbles in the smallest way.

It was funny later, but I was so worried about her in the moment. I was the one having a panic attack, and my little 21-year-old baby girl was JUST FINE. Surprisingly, she bounced right back and handled her mini-crisis like a pro. Now, did I step back and say to myself, “Atta girl, Mom! You did a good job.” Of course I didn’t! I kept going down that path of assuming that she succeeded in spite of my shortcomings.

My point is this: Sometimes the voices in our head are just cruel. They tell us that we’re not doing a good job when the reality is that we’re doing a wonderful job and are just too hard on ourselves. We love, we give, and we push ourselves beyond what we think we can endure just so our family knows we care. We sometimes need to have a firm talk with ourselves and accept a little pat on the back from our own hands. When you love your children, invest your time, connect with them often, and do your very best, I urge you to do what I have to remind myself to do: Sit back and take NOTICE of the great children you have around you.

Each week, I meet many wonderful educators who work with children and countless amazing parents. All of us are bombarded with so much information that we often feel overwhelmed trying to keep up with the latest research and trends. In reality, the people I meet are very loving and investing in their families in remarkable ways that produce incredible children who continue to do the same. I want you to stop and celebrate the things that are going well in your life. Pause to FEEL your success — you deserve it!

As you know, the highlight of my week is spending every Sunday with my family. This week, I listened carefully as we sat around the table. Above all the noise, I watched love in action through kind words, genuine hugs, and meaningful exchanges of concern for one another … and I smiled with deep satisfaction. Yes, it is okay to celebrate and be joyful. As William Shakespeare said, “Joy delights in Joy.” Being joyful brings you more joy.

Duty calls, and this mom is on a flight to the Big Apple on Monday morning. But I didn’t pack any guilt in my luggage this time. Take the time to re-evaluate if your suitcase, purse, suit coat, or heart carries guilt over how you are parenting your children. If your guilt is rational because you know you need to change, then take action so that you can live without regrets. If that guilt is unmerited guilt, then start today to celebrate all the great things about every child in your world.


Don’t Blink

February 6, 2013

GirlsWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

We have experienced some crazy weather across our nation this year. This picture of my granddaughters playing in the snow in Dallas was taken just a few weeks ago. Within days, the temperature was back up to 70 and 80 degrees. However, weather isn’t my area of expertise.

I look at this picture and remember with such clarity the day Ava was born almost eight years ago, and it seems like Ella should still be a babe in arms. And Holton, my newest grandchild, is not only walking and running but is also talking and ruling our world.

When Ava walked by us at church on Sunday, my husband gave me a look that only a Poppy can give and said, “She’s going to be a teenager before we know it.” It was a moment and an exchange that we both know all too well. It’s very hard to believe that we are watching our grandchildren grow up so fast. As a mother with three grown children, I remember the day I brought each child home. It seems like only yesterday.

If I could offer just one piece of advice to a mom who still has a child at home, I would encourage her to find a way to stop and cherish something about each day. I would tell her that the memory of caring for her child, even in the wee hours of the night, will one day be a cherished memory and that she will recall the spills, the tantrums, and the nighttime antics with a smile. In just the blink of an eye, all the mundane things that she does over and over every day will be the memories that she holds dearest. Trust me on this.

So, moms … get out that journal, find your video camera, use the camera on your phone, or just write on a notepad and capture as many memories as you can. You will be so grateful that you wrote down the funny things your child said, that you snapped a picture of that silly face, and that you stopped to experience the joy of the moment. Pause … just look around and remember that you will not pass through this moment again. You may have to look diligently at times to find the good or to experience real happiness, but I encourage you to resolve that you will be fully present today so that your tomorrow is not filled with regret.

Trust me on this: As quickly as the snow melts in Dallas, your child will be an adult. You will look at her and see the child she was in the adult beside you. It happens in the blink of an eye. Decide today to make every moment count. You won’t regret it. You can trust me on that, too!