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Boost Their Self-Esteem: How Your Words Can Help or Hurt

The things you say to your kids can impact their self-esteem.


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The things you say to your kids in passing matter a lot more than you may realize. So the next time you’re about to tell them something is hard, you may want to stop yourself. New research says these words can be more discouraging than previously thought and can hurt their self-esteem.

A recent study published in Child Development found that kids have a strong sense of self early on in life. But being discouraged can hurt their confidence sooner than previously thought.

Researchers wanted to test if young kids think of themselves by ability (‘I’m smart’) or focus on the end game (‘I got a good grade’). To find out, 176 kids ages 4 to 7 were asked to imagine they couldn’t do something—like solve a puzzle or draw a horse—even after trying hard. Kids were assigned tasks of varying degrees; some were told an adult asked them to do the task.

Afterwards, they were asked how they felt about their drawing and puzzle-solving abilities. Researchers found that even 4-year-olds had a grasp of their abilities and self-worth. But when they were told they failed at something an adult asked them to do, they experienced a lower sense of self-worth.

Researchers suggest adults be more positive and less discouraging when kids are really young. An easy thing to do? Dole out compliments when your kid does a good job.

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