October 18, 2017

One Little Perspective Change Altered How I Mother


Girl twirling in sunlight

With a song in her heart, my mom’s sweet little voice sang out.  Relishing in the joy that music brings to the soul of a young child, her heart filled and was satisfied.

Then the words came. Words that changed the course of that song. Words that still mock her 70 years later.

“You can’t sing. You can’t carry a tune.” If it was mentioned once, it may have been dismissed, but mother and siblings reminded her often, “You can’t carry a tune.”

So the tune in her heart ceased to exist. My mom never sang again.

Words hold power. Words carve personalities. Words cripple or build up.

My mom shared her story years ago with me,  but I called her this morning and asked her to clarify when she finally felt the freedom to sing again.

This Godly, Proverbs 31 woman, who knows her worth is in Christ, shared vulnerably, “Never really. I’ll sing quietly if lots of people are around or else I just pretend to sing.”

Tears stream as I write this because all of us can share an experience where the gripping effect of words sit at the forefront of our memory.

We know that words hurt, and we’ve heard it before,  but have you ever thought that “compliments” may have a negative effect as well? (Wait for it…)

As a young mom, I jotted down the statistic that 85% of a child’s self esteem is primarily developed by the time they are six. Many of those children grow up to be men and women who feel as if they “don’t measure up. Not good enough.”

Recently, I pulled out those notes from that study, but unfortunately, I don’t have the source. What I remember most is how profound of an impact that had on me. With four tiny children at home and days that included simultaneously wiping snot, catching vomit and praying for a shower before 4:00, I was stunned by the critical importance of those long, long, long days.

(Now I want to make clear that if you are reading this and your children are over six, this does NOT mean we are too late. I’d be in big trouble if it was because at times, my words have heart them too. It goes hand in hand with our post yesterday, that our new chapter starts today.)

You know what that little statistic did?

It gave me a new vision and purpose, and completely altered how mothered.

I hear you questioning, “But what would that look like in my day to day? I’m trying to keep my head above water and pop the pizza out of the oven without it burning, how can I help mold their self esteem in these early years?”

Start with this baby step. ( I will go into more detail tomorrow).

Look for ways to praise, recognize and correct good character.

We all want approval. That’s a given, but one of our parental roles in building our child’s self esteem is to point out those attitudes or actions that are demonstrating and exemplifying positive and encouraging character qualities.

Use words that focus on your child’s character qualities, NOT on performance based abilities or talents.

Do NOT get into the habit of praising performance!!

When that is the end game, it plants seeds of unworth that we will always struggle to relinquish.

For instance,  parents are over the top obsessed with childhood sports and winning. (Yes, that’s an entirely new blog post because I am complete sports mom with three sons that played varsity sports and a Division 1 football player.)

Often a win or loss are out of your child’s control, so instead of putting an emphasis on the performance such as “I’m so proud of you for that great win,” or shaming them for a loss, rephrase it with “I am so proud at how you persevered and didn’t give up. When it was 3rd and 8, you showed such strong determination.”

Now, I will let you know a little secret. I am not of the new mindset that all childhood sports should only have winners, so don’t hear me wrong.  Critical life lessons come from losses, but our children MUST know that regardless whether they win or lose, the heart and character behind the effort is what is key.

Refrain from throwing out snippets like, “Good job.” Instead, define what you mean by that. We have had many soccer and football wins that came in the middle of extreme heat.  Instead of just saying “Great job on that win,” I might have specified it with “Great job. I am so proud of you for showing such strong endurance in the midst of such heat. I don’t think I could have kept my head in the game with how hot it was. Proud of you for staying so attentive.”

I’m always thanking my kids for helping with the chores, but often, I’ll include WHY I am thankful.  If I were to focus only on performance or achievement, I would say, “Thanks. You did a great job vacuuming,” but with focusing on the character quality behind it, I will shift my verbiage to, “Thank you so much for your thoroughness and orderliness in finishing the job, even when you didn’t want to.”

Just this morning, my daughter spent about 20 minutes scrubbing out a pan that had burned stuff on the bottom. I told her, “Thank you for tackling that. I am so proud of your perseverance.

Her response, “Thanks, but this is so lame.” (yep, reality)

I know, I know,  it’s such a small shift, but one that can radically change how you use your words.

I will never (my husband tells me “never say never, but…”,) I will almost never complement our children on their looks alone. Often people say to them, “Wow, you are all beautiful,” and that just makes my heart sink. Of course, I always want them to know that I think they are beautiful and I share that with my girls because I know how easy it is for us to feel so insecure in our appearance, but focusing solely on outside beauty alone is fleeting. They have nothing to do with their looks and it’s the softening of their heart that I care about. It’s the generosity of spirit that I desire to see developed. One car accident and their looks could be altered for life, but who they are as a person, who Christ has called them to be, will not change.

So, if I sense my daughter needs assurance on her beauty or her outfit I might encourage her with, “That dress is lovely on you and I love how you took time in choosing those accessories, but you know that no matter what you look like on the outside, God sees you as beautiful and chosen and accepted, right?”

Yes, you may be rolling your eyes and thinking it sounds corny, but by inputting the true essence of self esteem, of reminding them of choosing to live out character qualities that matter for life, you are changing how they view themselves.

Now, I don’t always get it right. I’ve used my words to hurt as well. I might have to share my “dream crusher” story, but come on back tomorrow as I share some more examples that might startle you.

Yes, startle you.

Even I was shocked by some of these statistics and scenarios that I witnessed personally.

Have you witnessed the power of words in your parenting?

Don’t miss out on my free printables to share with your children. Reminders We ALL Need to Hear!

(If you’ve missed the first two posts in my 31 days series, begin here.) Feel free to follow along on Facebook where I dialogue daily and instagram (jenschmidt_beautyandbedlam) for sneek peek into life

31 Days with a Mentor Mom @beautyandbedlam 31 Days with a Mentor Mom (whos keeping it real)


  1. Great reminders! I also try to focus on character and not on performance. I want my kids to achieve {something that has been done through effort}, but more I want them to WANT to achieve because of how they feel about themselves… not because of anything anyone else is doing. My daughter loves to sing, and her big brother told her one day that she doesn’t sound good. I jumped on that faster than the words were out of his mouth. I love to hear her songs of praise… I hate to think what could happen to her confidence because of careless (And untrue) words from her brother…


    Jen Reply:

    Aj – good for you for being all over that sweet brother. One of our sons can do the same to his little sister. he doesn’t realize the power he has on her because she looks up to him so much and it heart her heart when he spews stuff like that.


  2. Another word that resonates with me! This is so true and I love the twist of adding how their character is involved when they make a good decision. Aren’t we quick to point out the character flaws in a poor decision but rarely do we in the good ones? I might add too that the absence of words to our children has devastating effects as well. Just watch a child (of any age) light up with words of affirmation and edification. Our words matter.


    Jen Reply:

    Such a great point, Jenny. The absence of words can be JUST as painful. Excellent reminder.


  3. This is such a wonderful post! Yes, we must be a Barnabas – always encouraging and lifting up! Thank you for these inspiring words of wisdom!


    Jen Reply:

    You are so welcome, Janna! Thank you for being a Barnabus. 🙂


  4. Just this season my 14yo started playing Varsity soccer. They haven’t had the *best* season, but ds isn’t getting over 5 minutes of playing time either. It’s tortured me more than him it seems, and it was being brought up often. Then I read an article that really grasped my heart in the matter: I missed watching him play.

    One day as we were coming home from practice, I shared that with him. I love watching him play. So when we drive a long way and he only gets 3 minutes out of a 80 min game, I get frustrated. I want to see him play, because I love watching him. I don’t think “it’s” been the same since then. An underlying pressure seems to be gone and we both agreed that God is teaching us both something this season that is going to benefit us in the future. Don’t know what yet, but we’re trusting!


    Jen Reply:

    oh yes, Wendy – I have that very phrase in my next post. It makes such a difference, doesn’t it?


  5. You just reminded me of something we tried during our years of ECFE. Instead of praising my daughter for how I thought she did we would say things like, “It looks like you tried really hard when you ____- I bet you’re proud of yourself.” I know it sounds kind of snarky when you write it out but the tone of voice really helps to convey the message. My daughter would beam when I’d say that and respond that she was, in fact, proud of herself. Of course I can’t help myself from saying how proud I am of her but it was nice to see her recognize her own accomplishments and praise herself them. I think this is definitely an area I’d like to work on again.


    Jen Reply:

    No, Crystal, it doesn’t sound snarky at all. I can only imagine how she would beam. 🙂 It’s something how it brings these things back to mind, doesn’t it? I’ve been working on it a lot more as well. I think with teenagers, it’s just as important, if not more so, since they have so much peer pressure to deal with just as is.


  6. Love this! I’ve read that research too but can’t remember where I saw it. I have a 3 yo and an infant, and I catch myself telling my son “good job” or complimenting him with “you’re so smart” (which if I recall from the article I read is another no-no). It’s a little more work but I’m sure if he hears me bragging on his hard work, diligence, etc enough times, then he will want to use those traits rather than just “cruising” on his smarts.


  7. Oh Jen! I needed this today … we’re coming out of a rough season in our little home and I want to make sure I’m giving my sweet girl a solid foundation of truth and grace with my words and actions. This series has been such a blessing to me already. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned to encourage those of us who are just a little bit behind you!1


  8. I love this. I try to be really conscious of catching my kids being kind or generous etc. We use little jars and I put these little fuzzy pom-poms in them when I discover something sweet – like one sharing with the other, or using kind words, or helping out with something without prompting. They don’t earn anything from the jar but they love getting the little “warm fuzzies” anyway. For me, it’s a great reminder to always be looking for the positive.


    Kristina Reply:

    @Jessica, Oh my, do I ever love this! So sweet, and the only “currency” here is love.


  9. Jen, thank you for this post! I have a 3 1/2 year old son and 1 1/2 year old daughter, and you have reminded me how much more important it is for me to try to speak words of encouragement based on the character qualities I see them demonstrating (more for my son at this point) that I hope they will one day embody.


  10. EXCELLENT post, Jen. Oh, how words can lift or sink.


  11. Absolutely Jen! It’s the smallest phrases that seem to make the most impact. Even when I’m not intentionally trying to be “parental & influential” these sweet babies are able to see the truth and meaning behind my intentions! Thank God !! Parenting is the hardest job on Earth, full of constant failures and yet a multitude of rewards. Thanks for taking this bold step to share & mentor.


  12. Tell them they’re beautiful. Every. Day. No one said that to me and I can imagine the impact if just person had said it. We all want someone to think we are and it needs to be believable by the recipient for it to truly matter. It is important.


    angie Reply:

    @Michelle, I agree. I had such a poor self image, I went out of my way to tell my children how wonderful they were. But yes, I gave more emphasis to my daughter’s looks that I did my son’s. Our society puts so much pressure on women to be beautiful, I wanted her to be secure in her looks. At 22, she rarely wears makeup and views getting ‘all fixed up’ as something she ‘gets’ to do for occasional fun rather that something she ‘has’ to do to be ‘acceptable’.


  13. Great post Jen. I’m glad the effects of parenting/self esteem don’t stop at 6yo. Parenting young adults has a slightly different version of this. Didn’t know these youngsters would still be seeking parental moral support and reassurance.
    For example: My 22yo son called one day, saying he wanted to buy a new to him car by getting a loan. I was somewhat aware of his finances and since we are Dave Ramsey people, began to tell him the pros & cons, but…..as I listened to myself I realized I’d pounded these words into his head growing up. Instead I said, “wait a minute, I have full confidence that you can make this decision, when you left home you were equipped with the tools to consider scenarios like this. You have a knack for evaluating value. I think you know the answer to this.”

    I wanted him to know that I have confidence in him as an adult. I think he was pleased of my confidence in him…but on the other hand he realized what was best. He growled over the phone. That’s how I knew he’d gotten the message. A boost to his self-esteem in roundabout sort of way. So far no car, haha!


    Jen Reply:

    oh Mary – I love hearing your wise, wise mothering in process!! And what a great son who knew to listen to those tools you did install. 🙂 (Since they don’t always do that, right? ;))


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