Responding with Enthusiasm

Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

Admiration and approval give your child the message that he is good

When your child calls out to you, “Mommy look. I made a snake with my clay,” it is very important to respond with enthusiasm. One of the greatest pleasures for a child, is to share his discovery or mastery with you. Your admiration and approval give him the message that he is good, and encourages him to feel self-confident as a learner. Here are some positive ways to communicate these messages:

Express appreciation: When she shows you her work try to stop what you are doing, make eye contact with her, and say something encouraging. For instance, you might say, “Good job” or “I love your snake.” Smiling, clapping your hands, saying, “Tell me about it” or just sitting down next to her and getting involved, also conveys that you appreciate what she has accomplished.

Observe your facial expression: It is very easy to squelch a child’s enthusiasm with a disapproving, frightened, or critical facial expression. Unless your child is in harm’s way, try to look at him in a positive way.

Pay attention please: When a child calls out, “Mommy, Daddy look at my collage” if you ignore her or tell her, “Go and play. We’re busy” you will be flattening her enthusiasm. When this happens, a child concludes that what she is doing is not valuable, and she might abandon her project. Unfortunately, she may also conclude: “If my project is no good, neither am I.” If parents are in the habit of giving a pat answer such as, “That’s nice,” she might also devalue what she is doing.

Express your interest in words: If you’re busy, it’s better to say, “I really want to see what you’re doing but I’m rushing to get ready for work. Put your puzzle on my bed and I’ll look at it in a moment.”

Avoid transferring your fears: If you show fear you can stop a child in his tracks. For example, when your eight year old is climbing on the monkey bars and he is clearly safe, but you are afraid of heights, try not to scream at him to get down. You will inadvertently be communicating that heights are dangerous. In this case, it would be better for you to walk over and stand close to your child to feel more comfortable.

Critique me not: When your child is drawing a person avoid saying, “That doesn’t look like a tree,” or sitting down and correcting her drawing, she may conclude that she cannot draw at all. Creativity and expressing their own view of life is important for kids.