Sunday, May 15, 2011

Building Internal Definitions of Self-Worth (Part II)

Soaking in some sun after an outdoor bath!

After my last post about this, a few of you asked if I would share a little more about this topic and give some more detailed examples. I will try to fulfill those requests :) Please keep in mind that I'm also still learning, and by no means consider myself to be a subject matter expert at this stage in my career.

Here goes: as we discussed in the last post, the way we choose to compliment or critique our children can shape the way they perceive their core "self". I'm sure most of you would agree that we are not defined by the clothes we wear or by our jobs or hairdos or even our thoughts. Who ARE we then? The "self" is a construct that has been defined in many ways over the years by various theorists. I believe that we all have a core existence, or "soul" that is the true self. The rest--body, mind, and certainly external objects, talents, or abilities are secondary to who we are. Thusly, if everything in your life is stripped from you, you are still you. This is true whether or not we choose to actively define ourselves this way on a regular basis.

(We get it, you've read A New Earth.  How does this apply to our kids?)

Non-directive play therapists believe that, given the proper direction, kids will naturally form this identification of an internal self worth BUT it takes some work from the parents/caregivers/therapists. Die-hard non-directive play therapists believe that you (the therapist) should not ever compliment a child's talents or abilities. If a kid paints you a picture and says, "what do you think of my painting?" you're supposed to respond by saying, " really want to know what  think of your painting." To which the kid will likely say, "YES. What do you think?" and you reply, "well, what do YOU think about your painting?" If the kid then says, "well, I like it." Then you say something to the effect of, "you really like your painting and you are proud of yourself."

I know. Classic therapist move right? This technique seems to really frustrate some kids who just want to know what YOU think dangit. But for many others, it gives them the chance to shrug off your opinion and own their opinion.

I know it seems weird. It's difficult for me in my training not to say, "that's AWESOME! Good for you! You did so well!" Because I love kids. I love their artwork, and their new Disney princess dress, and their ability to build a huge tower out of fake bricks.

But I believe in the process. By encouraging the child to decide what HE thinks of his art/dress/tower, you are fostering independence and a sense of mastery in the child, as well as building up this internal sense of self-worth.

You see, while it seems like the right thing to do to praise the child, we are then setting the child up to try and constantly impress us with his abilities. What if you don't make as big of a deal when he paints the next work of art? Will he think it's no good and crumple it up? Or will he say, "I like it. I'm going to hang it up".

This whole philosophy is steeped in play therapy theory, and not necessarily parenting theory. I realized that it's probably unrealistic that you would go through day after day never complimenting your child. I'm not saying that's the way. I guess I am just witnessing this process unfolding in the therapeutic setting, and I've seen how effective it is, especially for kids with low self esteem or high external demands.

Will I compliment my daughter on her masterpieces? I'm sure. I happen to think everything she says and does is absolutely profound ;) But will I think about what non-verbal messages I am sending in the verbal feedback? You betcha.

I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on this.....COMMENT! :) But regardless of what you think, I think I did an okay job explaining this topic and I am proud of myself. See, it really works! j.k.

1 comment:

amira said...

LOL, loved the ending. That's coming full circle.

I know I can't do the die-hard therapist version of never complimenting and throwing opinions back at the child.

Ever since your last post, I've been mindful of how I phrase compliments and comments, not only to Aiman, but his cousins and other children I see regularly. I really don't want to over praise, yet at the same time, I want them to know that I genuinely like what they did/drew/whatever AND for them to be proud of it regardless. It's difficult finding a balance.

Conversely, how about reprimanding bad behavior? I make it a point to clarify that I don't like the behavior or act, but still love the child, but is that enough? It's kind of hard to gauge if the child is getting it, especially when they're really young (ie toddler).

Thanks for sharing!