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Discipline that supports good self-esteem: focusing on behaviour rather than the child

When disciplining, our communication can support our children to develop of a strong sense of self or it can make them doubt themselves. 

For example, if our words focus on the child’s behaviour we can help them learn how to act in the world appropriately without hurting their self-esteem. To explain with an example, let’s say your child refuses to share their toys – a common developmental stage for toddlers. If your communication is along the lines of “oh you’re a naughty boy. Why can’t you be more like your friend Braden he shares his toys? Good boys share with their friends when will you learn to share with your friends?”

Discipline that supports good self-esteem:

Calling a child a naughty boy or comparing them to others can really hurt their self-esteem. Children can internalise “I am naughty and I’m not good enough” which is obviously harmful to their self-esteem. However, if parents focus on the child’s behaviour in their communication this can help them learn how to act in the world appropriately without hurting their sense of self. 

For example:  “You know I love you, but what you’re doing right now is not OK. Playing together and sharing your toys with friends is important. Can you see how Braden is upset now that you won’t share your toys? You like it when other children share toys with you don’t you? What toy will you like to share with Braden? You can choose any toy you would like to offer him, come on pick something.”

Children may not choose anything to share the first time you try this and you may need to do this many times until they start to understand and cooperate. It’s all about learning over time in a gentle and caring way – one which supports your child’s development and their sense of self. Allowing your child to choose the toy they want to share shows them you that acknowledge the toys are theirs, that you value their choices and most importantly it shows that you respect them. This helps build good self-esteem. 

Little by little, sharing will become a natural part of life as the fear of their toys being taken away declines and the joy of playing together becomes more important. 

Sharing is a wonderful skill for life!


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