Monday, March 01, 2004
Stomach flu by any other name is still rotten :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
How do I correct without doing harm? Q: My 20-month-old daughter is beginning to try saying a lot of words. Sometimes she makes a mistake and calls something by the wrong word. More often, she badly mispronounces the word she is trying to say.
I want to correct her so she doesn't keep making the same error, but I have learned enough from reading your column to know that I don't want to do anything to shake her confidence in herself. What would be an appropriate response when she misuses or mangles words? R.G., Chicago
A: Your daughter is so young that you don't have to be concerned about her mistakes-you can just enjoy the process of her language acquisition. All toddlers misuse and mangle words in the process of learning them. Your role is to be upbeat about whatever effort she makes and to simply model the correct pronunciation or usage. For example, if she says, "at" for "cat," you might reply, "Yes! That's right, that's the cat!" She will feel warmed by your enthusiasm at the same time she absorbs the correct pronunciation because she loves imitating you.
If my 3-year-old doesn't try, can he build confidence? Q: My husband and I have a 3-year-old boy who often says that he is no good at things. For example, when my husband asks him if he would like to play catch, he says no because he isn't any good at it. We tell him he does just fine, but it doesn't seem to affect his negative mood.
We have read that children and adults get their self-esteem from doing things well. If that's the case, my son seems stuck in a vicious circle. He doesn't try things because he thinks he can't do them. Since he doesn't try, he can't improve so he never feels better about himself. What do you advise? P.N., Wayne
A: Well-being that depends on succeeding evaporates in the face of defeat. Children and adults who need to succeed to feel good about themselves tend to put too much emphasis on winning, which can make them overly competitive and poor sports.
Genuine self-esteem starts with the feelings of being lovable, loving and loved that children get from parents and other important adults. Children who receive that gift become adults with a well-being that is unaffected by success or failure.
There is a different, secondary, kind of self-esteem that children get from external success. Young children often get frustrated and their secondary self-esteem diminishes when they can't have what they want, such as someone else's toy. As they mature, children begin to develop the capacity to maintain their secondary self-esteem by making a good effort-if their team plays well but loses, they can still feel happy.
Your son is still at an age when success and failure affects his secondary self-esteem. He is trying to avoid the pain of failure by saying he is "no good" and refusing to try.
You can assist him in two ways. First, show him lots of affection, don't expect too much of him and comfort him when he is frustrated so he will develop the kind of basic self-esteem that comes from feeling cared for.
Second, volunteer to help him in areas where he feels he is "no good" and praise him for any efforts he makes. Be sure not to send the message that he has to be a "star" to make you proud. If you are consistently positive, he will be less concerned with whether he is "good" or "bad" at an activity and will focus more on enjoying himself. At that point, dropping a ball or losing a point will not be so painful, and your son will feel more like participating and less like sitting on the sidelines.
We should add that 3-year-olds sometimes say "I can't" when they want their parents to do something for them (as in, "I can't get my boots on," "I can't button my shirt"). This is normal behavior they will outgrow. It is not worth worrying about.
If parents refuse, the child may be driven to prove his incompetence in order to get the assistance he wants. If you think this is sometimes the case with your son, just say affectionately, "Actually, I know you can do it yourself, but I am very happy to do it for you."
Can you help me navigate birthday party minefields? Q: My son is about to have his second birthday and we have arranged a party for five friends and their parents. I have tried to plan a party he will like, but I am worried about the time he opens presents. At other birthday parties we have attended, the birthday boy tears through wrapping paper until he uncovers the present, at which point he moves on to the next gift.
The parents often try to make the child say thanks and show appreciation, but it usually doesn't happen and a power struggle ensues. Then the other kids start to move in to play with the birthday boy's presents and the child melts down completely. I don't want my son to experience this kind of unhappiness on his birthday. We would really appreciate suggestions. F.T., Highland Park
A: We agree that it is common but sad to see 2-year-olds so unhappy at their own birthday parties. Fortunately, the problem is easily solved.
Two-year-olds are much too young to open presents neatly, admire each gift and thank the giver. Demanding this behavior from young children makes them miserable without teaching politeness.
So when guests arrive, collect the birthday presents and put them away. Your son and his friends will be free to enjoy the birthday activities. When everyone has gone home, let your son open his presents. If he prefers to tear through all the wrappings until he sees what is inside every box, you will be able to enjoy his fun without worrying about anyone else's feelings. Send thank-yous to the present-givers that include a mark or picture drawn by your son.
Questions? Here's your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you're trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child's behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to SPedersen@chicagoparent.com. The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry-they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication.
More Answers. For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our Web site, www.chicagoparent.com. Click on "Past Issues" and then "Smart Love." For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002, paperback edition spring 2004), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love (Harvard Common Press, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.