Raising Empowered Kids: Five Communication Pitfalls to Avoid

Written by Christy Whitman November 20, 2013

All parents struggle sometimes to find the right words to build our kids’ self-esteem and nurture their full self-expression. And of course, while every situation is different and every child is unique, there are some messages we may inadvertently send our kids that do more harm than good. To ensure that you are building a relationship with your child(ren) that is founded in openness and mutual respect, here are some common communication pitfalls to avoid:

Pitfall #1: Name Calling

Essential to having high self-esteem is the understanding that our behavior does not define our value as human beings. Will your child’s actions at times be less than desirable? Yes, of course! Comments such as “You’re so lazy,” or “Why are you so angry?” we confuse the behavior with the being. The key is to address the actions we want to improve while never calling into question the fact that our children are inherently lovable.

Pitfall #2: Invalidating Feelings

Because you’re an adult, you know that your daughter’s argument with a friend or stress about an upcoming English test are just passing clouds in an otherwise blue sky, but to her, these things may look and feel more like a storm that will last for weeks. When in an effort to ease her mind we say things like, “Don’t worry” we are actually invalidating her perspective and depriving her of the understanding she is seeking. In the same way we sometimes just need to vent without too quickly being offered a solution, our kids need room to express their feelings and concerns. The simple fact that we are open to hearing their perspective often gives them the reassurance they need.

Pitfall #3: Comparing

Comparing our kids to another sibling or friend delivers a double blow to their self-esteem. First, it conveys the message that they are not good enough as they are; second, it teaches them to look for validation of their worth from outside sources rather than from within. The most effective way to bring out the best in our children – even in an area where they struggle – is to genuinely acknowledge them for the things they do well.

Pitfall #4: Shaming

When our kids act out in a way that is disrespectful or hurtful to others, it can be tempting to “teach them a lesson” by telling them all the ways in which what they have done is bad or wrong. However, shaming our kids’ behavior does nothing to address its underlying cause. Barring any abuse or neglect within the family, children who lash out almost always do so because they feel frustrated and disempowered. If instead of thinking in terms of getting our kids to stop acting out we think in terms of helping them start feeling more empowered, we teach them how to meet their needs while still respecting the needs of others.

Pitfall #5: Praising

This one is a little tricky, because of course we want to acknowledge our kids for their accomplishments. However, the words we choose make a huge difference in the ultimate message we deliver. Praise validates the result that your child created (“You were the best hitter on your team today!” You played really well at your piano recital.”) Although these words are well-intentioned, our kids may interpret them to mean that had they not played well, they would not be deserving of our validation. Encouragement is far more effective in building self-esteem, because it validates the effort the child makes, rather than the end result. (“You were so focused today during your recital. All your practice really paid off… Great job!) Encouraging our children teaches them the skills they will eventually need to encourage themselves.

To raise empowered children – which is the goal of the Enlightened Kid Program – is to instill within them an inherent belief that they are lovable, capable, and deserving of all the gifts that life has to offer. Empowerment will look different as our kids move through each stage of their development, but the one constant is the presence of what Deepak Chopra calls “self-referral.” That is, that our children have the ability to look first to themselves – to their gut instincts and to their genuine desires – when deciding how they want to respond in any given situation. As parents, our job is to nurture this growing sense of self-empowerment by the ways we communicate with them – both verbally and non-verbally. Today’s generation is influenced by so many things; not just peers but also pop culture and a social media world that engages them 24/7. To be self-empowered is to know that in the midst of all of this, our children have within them an untouchable center of wellbeing that they can return to anytime they feel off course or need to reconnect.

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