Learn to appreciate your child
Mental health advocate Varalika Mishra says criticisms at home lead to low self-esteem in children
Self-talking of a child is directly related to how someone communicates to a child during the early years of development. A child mostly gets conditioned in the home environment. If the child hears words which uplift her/him, that would make the child more confident. However, if harsh words or criticisms are continuously coming her/his way, that eventually impacts the self-image of a child. The child starts to believe every word said to them and views themselves through that lens.
“Criticism is an attack upon your very self and the effects can be profound,” says parent educator and best-selling author Adele Faber.
“The child who lives with criticism learns to condemn herself/himself, finds fault with others, doubts their own judgment and distrusts the intention of others. The inner dialogue remains: ‘I’m stupid, I’m hopeless, I’m unworthy’,” Faber adds.
How we communicate with a child over time is how they end up communicating with themselves. The self image is eventually built through such conversations over the years.
“It’s as if, by hearing your voice over and over again, he builds a parent inside himself, a mirror image of you,” says child and adolescent psychiatrist Gene V. Beresin, associate professor at Harvard who practices at Massachusetts General Hospital.
If the messages parents give are hopeful, optimistic and full of faith and pride in a child, the reflection grows into a sense of confidence and competence. Facing a challenge, this child tells herself/ himself, “This is hard, but I can do it.” If a parent’s messages are repeatedly harsh and critical, “the child’s image of self is as bad, unworthy, incompetent”, says Beresin.
We all know, from our own lives, how criticism feels. We may have experienced the demoralising effect of frequent criticism in our homes, workplaces or in relationships.
In many families, parents and children have become locked in vicious cycles of unhealthy family interactions. This leads to dysfunctional relationships with the self and others. Criticism and punishment lead to anger and defiance or secretiveness and withdrawal; this leads to more criticism then more defiance and withdrawal. Eventually resulting a poor self image about the self, low self esteem and low confidence.
As these cycles escalate, parents feel increasingly justified in their criticism and disapproval, and children, for their part, feel increasingly justified in their resentment and defiance. Parents say, “You never listen.” The child says, “All I hear is criticism. They are always yelling at me.”
Listening, of course, does not mean agreement or giving in to unreasonable demands. When we listen, we make a genuine effort to understand and appreciate our child’s point of view and to acknowledge the emotions.
A recent study led by Dr. Reuma Gadassi-Polack (2021) investigates how criticism and praise, from mothers, fathers, siblings and friends may be related to children’s depression. In addition, the research sought out to discover if children of depressed mothers may be more sensitive to criticism and less sensitive to praise compared to children of non-depressed mothers.
The researchers studied 72 children and adolescents (8-15 years old) who either had a mother with depression history or not. Every day for 21 days, they completed a short questionnaire where they reported their depressive symptoms and whether they received criticism and/or praise from their mother, father, siblings, and friends.
While all youths in the study showed more symptoms of depression when they were criticised by a family member, this effect was much stronger for youth with depressed mothers. These children with depressed mothers were also the only ones to have increases in depression when they were criticized by their friends.
Another finding was that praise from mothers or fathers was associated with decreased depressive symptoms for all youths in the study, with or without maternal depression history. In other words, while criticism mostly hurts depressed mothers, praise (from parents) benefits everyone.
While mothers certainly have a significant impact on their children’s mental health, this study emphasises that feedback from fathers and siblings also matters. Criticism from any family member — mothers, fathers and siblings — may increase depression symptoms in children. On the other hand, praise from mothers and fathers decreases depression symptoms.
Clinical Hypnotherapist Amit Monga, who practices in Delhi, says to work over self, a tool of inner child healing and radical consciousness can aid in healing the self-image of a person which was conditioned over the years. The sub-conscious mind is the storehouse of emotions and thoughts which repeat on auto-pilot mode through different patterns in behaviour, he adds.
The way forward in helping oneself from the cage of wired thoughts is through seeking professional help. Taking action for one’s mental health is an act of immense courage and value. Given the current situation of COVID-19, it is all the more important to adopt appropriate lifestyles to take care of one’s mental health.