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‘My dad’s cleverer than your dad’, ‘My mom’s prettier than your mom’, ‘My house is bigger than your house’ ... how often do you hear claims like these coming from your child’s little friend in the back of the car, or have to make excuses to a teacher for the wild exaggerations made at ‘show and tell’ about your own family life?
Children love to believe that they, and their significant others, can do things bigger, better and faster. It’s not uncommon for all of us to want to impress, and a certain amount of bragging at a young age is fairly common. Many a time while lifting children I have overheard a white Karate belt transform to a black, or a Taz become a ‘torpedo shooting sports car’. Much of children’s desire to inflate themselves is won at the expense of deflating another child, which is why children who brag often are seldom popular. If we are too full of ourselves, we cannot relate deeply to another person – there is no space! Children brag because they need to feel better about themselves. When you feel small and inadequate in comparison with your siblings or friends, who you perceive to be bigger, stronger and more popular and as having a lot more ‘stuff’ than you, it’s natural to want to elevate your standing. As the line between bragging and lying is very thin, another reason children who brag are not liked is that no one can really trust them. Trust is crucial in all relationships, even at a young age. If a child is allowed to brag unrestrainedly over a long period, it’s easy to see that they could come to start believing their own exaggerated distortions of the truth. If others are impressed, a pattern gets set in place that says basically, ‘I am not good enough as I am; therefore I need to continuously add and exaggerate in order to be OK.’ The child, and later the adult, can then seldom be happy, as they never feel worthy simply being who they are. They also live in fear that someone is going to find out and burst their inflated bubble of untruths. The trouble is, the more rejection and scorn your bragging attracts, the more vociferously you seek to inflate yourself, in an even more desperate attempt to be noticed and receive approval. HOW PARENTS CAN UNWITTINGLY CAUSE A CHILD TO BRAG He’s adorable, brilliant, talented, a future CEO or rocket scientist. She’s the prettiest girl in the class, ‘very bright’ and a sure choice for head girl in 10 years’ time. We are all prone to magnifying our children’s abilities. Sometimes, however, this devotion can blind you to the reality of who your child really is. Worse still, through your constant praise and rewards your child will begin to believe that she actually is more important and better than her peers. When reality hits home, there is a huge chasm between how she actually experiences herself and the image she needs to live up to, to fulfil her parents’ ideals – a flashy exterior with a feeling of emptiness inside. In this conflict between self-importance and feelings of emptiness, bragging becomes a way to maintain status and truth becomes the victim. It’s not that praise itself is bad – it’s essential to reinforce a healthy sense of self. It’s just that constant, unrealistic praise, irrespective of whether it is deserved or not, can have as detrimental an effect on a child as not receiving any praise or recognition, and both can lead to bragging. SELF-ESTEEM AND BRAGGING When we feel deflated, we seek opportunities to inflate ourselves. While a degree of bragging is common in many children, when it reaches alarming proportions it is an indicator that the child’s self-esteem is at a low ebb. Often this is a phase and not cause for great concern; however, it should be monitored. Because self-esteem is low, other behavioural problems can develop, such as an explosive temper should anyone dare to question the bragger. The ego’s needs have to be fulfilled, and the craving to be seen as ‘special’ becomes the driving force in the individual’s life. We can then never be simply human be-ings – we feel we have to be human do-ings and achiev-ings, which can affect our adult lives. HOW TO HELP A BRAGGING CHILD If your child brags, look for ways to gently and genuinely boost his self-esteem, without exaggerating his achievements. If for example he is hopelessly bad at sport, perhaps there is another area where he can feel accepted and successful. Look for effort as opposed to just achievement. As parents, are you over-critical and your expectations of your child too high? Do you over-emphasise your child’s failure? When he has fallen short of your expectations to achieve, do you make him feel really ashamed? Why do you need your child to achieve so desperately? Is it really in the child’s interest, or more about your need to feel good? If the child never quite makes your grade, he is constantly going to feel inadequate and a failure. Tell your child what a great job he has done (assuming he has). Look for strong points and build on those. Get him to believe that he is not only good enough, but great as he is. And get him to understand that he doesn’t need to appear to be what he isn’t for the sake of impressing others. It’s all about loving and accepting children for who they are, not who you feel they should be. Children need to feel good about themselves, no matter whether they came first or last.
She has authored several books, including The A-Z Guide to Common Habits, The Girl Who Bites Her Nails and the Man Who is Always Late, Finding Your Feet and Climbing the Beanstalk – the Hidden Messages Found in Best-Loved Fairytales. Ann has worked as a holistic practitioner, using Reiki and Footology. She teaches a number of workshops and is also an exhibiting artist. Ann has spent over 20 years studying the mind/body connection, with habits being her particular interest.
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