As a child, do you ever remember wanting your parents to watch you do something you were excited about? Every child desires their parents’ attention. We all not only want, but need the validation early in life that we are worth paying attention to. We each have a deep-seated drive for recognition and affirmation and our most meaningful source of this early in life is our Mom and Dad.
When this need is not sufficiently met, it creates self-doubt and can impact the development of our personality. When we do not have an affirmative answer to the question, “Am I worth paying attention to?”, we can become preoccupied with needing the validation and attention from others. This can drive the way we view all of our relationships. Believing that we are not worthwhile can set us up for unhealthy dynamics in the way we seek the validation later in life from our spouse, friends, or even our children.
Even as adults, we can be strongly motivated by seeking recognition and praise from someone else for what we do. Taken too far, this reliance on praise in order for us to find satisfaction often causes us to seek it even when it is not merited. This can lead to us feeling disappointed, hurt and angry when others do not offer it freely. When we feel as though we haven’t received enough recognition, we may also deny it to others even when they have done something extraordinary. The constant search for affirmation can also spark jealousy when we see others getting recognition. We may find ourselves undermining or unjustly criticizing the achievements of others.
This can set us up for conflict in our work, marriage, or other adult relationships, where we unconsciously seek continual validation from the other person. Depending on someone else to prove that you have value, especially when you, yourself, do not believe it, is an unachievable expectation for any relationship.
Balancing Encouragement and Discipline: So, how do you keep from passing on this same self-doubt to your children? They can easily feel defeated when we focus too much on criticism, but correction is a key part of your parenting responsibility. Maintaining the balance between being the cheer leader your child needs, while providing correction and guidance is a struggle every caring parent has. Finding the right way to develop confidence, positive self-worth and belief in their capabilities is often a moment-by-moment decision you have to make, but is guided by the notion that you are putting your child’s needs above your own. When you see something in your child’s behavior that needs to be corrected, balance your correction with adequate praise and recognition for what your child does well or the characteristics you most appreciate about them.
So often, we can look so intently for what needs to be corrected that we can overlook many praiseworthy aspects of our child. When we are careful to balance correction with praise, it helps to ensure that our child does not only hear criticism from us. We also need to be on guard to help ensure that correction does not become the central theme of our relationship with our child. Actively search for those moments when your child is behaving in a praiseworthy fashion and give appropriate recognition. By investing in your child and in your relationship this way, you establish a foundation of love, encouragement and good will so that when correction is required, you have a positive foundation to draw on.
As parents, we can become so busy with the stress and obligations of daily life that we overlook the needs of our child for attention, especially when their need for attention seems related to something we consider frivolous. But, keep in mind, that it takes a surprisingly small amount of ongoing rejection and neglect to crush a child’s spirit. Even though their demands for our attention often seem inconsequential, it is important to remember that it is far easier to nurture and maintain a child’s self-esteem than it is to rebuild a broken spirit.
That does not mean you must always be at your child’s beck and call whenever they want your attention, but make sure they understand why you cannot be attentive at a given moment, and always make a point of returning to them at your first opportunity to give them the chance to have you share in their enthusiasm. And remember to value the time of your child’s life when they want you involved. It doesn’t last long!
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.