Here's the most damaging thing you can do to another person.
A YOUNGSTER comes running in through the front door after a productive day at school. "Mom, look what I made at school," he chirps cheerfully. In his hand he clutches a curious piece of crayon art only a parent could fully appreciate. Mom, who had only shortly returned from a bout with the supermarket crowds, shelves another package. "Mom, look what I made for you!" Little Jimmy tugs on his mother's hem in a feeble attempt to gain her attention. "Can't you see I'm busy?" she blurts impatiently. "Go show it to your brother!" Jimmy slowly walks away. Deflated and discouraged by his mother's anger and lack of interest, he questions his own abilities. His confidence has been shattered.
The Plight of Adults, Too
All too often children have their confidence carelessly shattered through the indifference or harshness of parents, or by the cruel chiding of peers. But this plight is not confined to children. Anyone can be the victim. A wife, feeling frazzled and frustrated because of a lack of appreciation, questions her own abilities and competence. "Why try?" she ponders. Feelings of personal worth and value are so fragile, yet so often overlooked. In a society that is preoccupied with self-love, the emotional needs of others are frequently ignored. Perhaps you have been stifled and stunted by the belittling remarks and actions of others, or have done the same to others! Confidence, once it has been broken, is one of the most difficult qualities to reconstruct. Many adults live with negative self-images that were acquired during childhood. The resulting self-doubt and lack of confidence impairs success throughout life. Confidence is characterized by an appreciation of the value and worth of a human being. Severe lack of this quality can produce depression and despondency. Suicide is a by-product of amplified self-doubt. Understanding of personal worth, whether in a child or in an adult, promotes achievement and success. Numerous experiments have been conducted to illustrate the importance of confidence. In one such experiment, several students were randomly proclaimed, during the first day of class, to be the academic sprinters. The instructor, in actuality, did not yet know who the bright students were. He merely praised a select few for the genius he "intuitively" knew each possessed. The same students actually became the higher achievers. Their boosted confidence, nurtured by the high expectations of the instructor, made the difference. From a young age, children naturally begin a continuous process of evaluating themselves in the light of the opinions and comments of others. These self-appraisals commonly involve physical appearance, intelligence, athletic ability, popularity and much more. Few parents realize the impact they have on their children. A child's concept of himself is largely influenced by the way he thinks his parents view him. Because children are so impressionable, their confidence is the most easily shaped or shattered.
It Begins in the Home
The greatest damage to confidence is often inflicted in the home. Confidence can be impaired in a variety of ways: by lack of praise and encouragement, through personal shortcomings, inadequacies or failures, or by the negative implications of others. Parents can help by monitoring the level of confidence their children show about themselves. A child's comments such as "I'm stupid," "I can't do anything right," or "Nobody likes me" may be signs of a damaged respect for oneself. How do you recognize a child who possesses a healthy sense of personal value? Such a child is not easily intimidated or frightened. He relates well to adults and those his age. Generally, he is cheerful, energetic and eager to try new things. Physical appearance can be the greatest threat to confidence for many. In a society that wrongly places lofty value in comeliness, the child with the slightest imperfections can become emotionally handicapped. If a child appears constantly to need an unusual amount of praise and encouragement, he or she may be probing for something to lift the feelings of inadequacy. Many parents give little or no thought to the importance of building confidence in their children. And an abysmal self-image left unremedied has serious effects. An attitude of "I can't succeed, so why try" quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of the greatest tools for building another's self-respect is praise. But it is first necessary to distinguish praise from flattery. Praise is earned or deserved. Flattery is given regardless of merit-it is a tool of those who believe the end justifies the means. Praise serves best when it has a focus. "You've been helpful today" is all right. But, "You did a fine job mowing the lawn" is much better. An encouraging word of praise engenders more of the kind of activity that prompted it. This is true with all age groups. Approval and recognition from others is one of the greatest motivators known to man. This is not to say that people should laud others incessantly, but that encouragement and sincere compliments have a very positive effect. Praise promotes a positive attitude and improvement. People, young and old, tend to live up to the expectations of others. Praise creates the desire to "keep up the good work" or to accomplish more. The necessity of praise, however, does not do away with the need for timely correction. Children, in particular, must learn at an early age which kinds of conduct and thoughts are undesirable. But correction and praise are opposite sides of the same coin. A child that receives adequate encouragement will be more receptive to correction when it is given. When it comes to confidence, modern conclusions reinforce biblical wisdom established long ago: "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad" (Prov. 12:25, Revised Authorized Version).