Is it dangerous to call our children 'special'?

They amaze us on a daily basis, so it’s only normal to refer to our children as our ‘special’ ones. However, recent research has suggested that, far from benefiting our children, calling them ‘special’ can actually open them up to narcissism and low self­-esteem.

 

With the praise of our children and the promotion of their self-­esteem being two important aspects of parenting, MummyPages asked readers about their approach to both.

 

One of the most significant findings of our survey was that 82% of respondents admitted to telling their child that they are ‘special’; and, contrary to the findings of the US study, the majority (98%) said that this had only positive effects on their little ones.

 

The danger of comparison

One concerning area of the survey was parents’ views on drawing comparisons between their child and another. Indeed, with many admitting to comparing their children with their peers, it seems that this has not always had a positive outcome.

 

In such cases, it was found that:

  • ­ Over half of children experienced pressure in social situations
  • ­ 42% of children felt under pressure with school work
  • ­ 42% of children harboured feelings of inadequacy among their peers
  • ­ 16% experienced feelings of superiority over their peers

 

The power of love

The US study found that the best way to promote self­-esteem in our children is to tell them you love them on a regular basis, which many of the mums (45%) who took our survey agreed with.

 

Where the survey got really interesting, however, was in the comments section, where our mums opened up on how their personal experiences and relationships growing up affected their approach to parenting.

 

Indeed, one mum wrote: “I was rarely praised or encouraged by my parents and it left me with incredibly low self­esteem. I want my children to know they are loved and are my world. With a solid foundation of love, they will always know the world is not against them.”

 

The expert’s opinion

With so many different views, parental support expert Aoife Lee of Parent Support.ie shared her advice on the best approach to praising and promoting self­-esteem in our little ones.

 

“Acknowledging and praising your child’s positive behaviour honestly and often is a valuable skill we learn as parents and builds on our relationship with them. It shows our children we care while also enhancing their own self­esteem,” she says.

 

 

When encouraging your child, Aoife advises:

 

1. Be clear: Try to have your child’s full attention before you encourage them. Be down at their level and make eye­contact using a warm and genuine tone of voice.

 

2. Be distinctive: The more specific you are about your child’s positive behaviours, the more your child will know what behaviour you are praising them for, and the more likely they will repeat that behaviour. So, rather than saying ‘you’re a great boy’, it’s more effective to say ‘you put all your blocks in the box when I asked you, you’re a great boy’. The sooner you praise after a certain positive behaviour, the better as your child will know for sure what it is your praising them for. This works well if you are focusing on changing a negative cycle of certain behaviours.

 

3. Be personal: Every child is different; there is no one best way to encourage your own child, whether it’s a big deal or a little hug. Whatever the approach is, make sure that your child experiences encouragement as personal and genuine.

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