Metta is a popular form of Buddhist meditation that cultivates loving-kindness. It is an attitude of friendliness that recognizes the best in others with empathy and compassion. It is an expression of love that is without expectations. When you view your child with metta, you aspire to imagine his highest potential, unbounded by limits or restraints. With metta, your love for him is unconditional, and you wish the best for him. A positive and helpful approach to your child’s development involves being mindful that your actions and words are truly about him, his dreams, and his potential.
Your mental image of your child can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your beliefs precede your actions, which in turn reinforce his beliefs and actions. If you think that your child is smart and capable, then you most likely expect him to be intelligent, and do all you can to nourish his mental development, thus making it more likely that he does become a bright, capable child. On the other hand, a negative image of your child can create negative expectations for him. Thoughts and words are very powerful, and they affect not only how you feel about him, but also how he feels about himself.
Children see themselves through the reflection of their parents’ eyes. The beliefs that your child develops about himself depend a lot on the feedback that he receives and perceives, especially from parents and other primary caregivers.
These messages are a mirror to him because he trusts you and believes what you believe about him. He absorbs your feedback—positive, negative, or neutral—and it helps form his self-image.
Actions speak louder than words, but words still matter, and they should be chosen with awareness. When it comes to reacting positively to your child, Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler, MD found that encouragement is a healthier approach than praise. He drew this distinction in the early 20th century, and subsequent studies have supported his conclusions.
According to Adler’s theory, the language of praise is judgmental and focuses on a result, while the language of encouragement is inspirational and focuses on a process. Here is an example of praise: “I am proud of you for winning the game.” Here is an example of encouragement: “You played hard, and your efforts paid off.” Praise can cause children to become motivated by approval alone, thus inhibiting their internal motivation. Encouragement, on the other hand, recognizes the child’s own choices and efforts, and thus builds self-evaluation and internal motivation.
When you connect your baby’s actions to internal satisfaction instead of tangible rewards, such as stickers, toys, or candy, he develops confidence and learns to associate himself with who he is instead of what he does. Be honest and sincere as you focus on encouraging his process and behavior, rather than merely praising his achievements. Avoid comparing him to other children, either by using him as an example of the better one or by using someone else as an example.
A positive approach also involves recognizing your child for exactly who he is and letting him know that you see him. When you recognize him, you acknowledge that you know him, including his current fears, pleasures, and interests.
When you show that you recognize your child, he feels that he is understood, that he is okay, and that the world is right and good. By remaining as positive as possible, you help your child feel loved, valued, worthy, and confident. Your encouraging words and actions provide the path to his belief in himself.