Out of a spirit of love and caring, parents can accidentally get in the habit of "putting down" their children/youth. Let's listen together at what I have heard parents say in response to a positive comment that I made about their son or daughter: (I am adjusting these examples slightly to preserve anonymity.) I said, "You have a wonderful son. He's going to be a good example of America as an exchange student."
Response by parents with the son listening, "Yes, if he will just get out of bed in the morning. He's found that too hard to do here at home with his job." The parent who said this lovingly gave the boy a squeeze, but the barb was there and I could look at the face of the youth and see that it hurt, especially because it was in front of me.
Here's another one: "I really think your boy is going to do well at everything he does."
Reply from parent in front of teen: "Well if you really knew what he is like..." and it was said seriously.
Another time I said to a parent, "What a cute little boy." and the parent replied, "Oh, but he is so shy."
Somewhere I heard that it is a desired trait to be able to just say "Thank you" and accept a compliment. Had it been done in each of these instances, the child or teen would have felt good about what was said. As it turned out, each one felt less than before. The young child is labeled by his parent as being shy and will probably live up to that expectation
As parents we would never think to make comments like these to a friend. It is so easy to habitually get used to correcting or reminding children that we do it nonstop.
Glenn Latham (The Power of Positive Parenting, p.71) states that it wasn't until his children were nearly raised did he come to realize how important it was to maintain close verbal contact with them. I might add that he will describe a wonderfully positive experience with his youth because he kept it positive. He states:
It came on a winter day when my youngest son and I were returning from a day of skiing. It had been a wonderful day together. We skied and talked and skied and talked all day long. I was a bit surprised that my boy spent so much time on the slopes with me since he was so much better than I was and could certainly have had a more exciting time by joining some of his friends in the wilderness areas where I never dared to go.
While driving home together that evening, my son said to me 'Dad, do you know why I asked you instead of a date to go skiing with me'
"No," I answered, "but I'm glad you did because I had a wonderful time being with you."
"Well, I'll tell you," he said. "It's because I needed to talk to you about things I can't talk to a date about."
I hadn't recalled talking about anything that wasn't all heavy. We just shot the breeze, laughed, and kidded around. We made a little ski jump out of packed snow, talked about the thrill of jumping off it, and laughed about how I almost killed myself th one time I jumped off it. For the most part, I couldn't recall any particular thing we had talked about.
But we did talk.
Sometimes we talked loudly as we called to one another across the ski slopes. Sometimes we talked softly as we shot the breeze across the table during lunchtime in the lodge. But for the most part, it was just talk, small talk. At the time I had no idea how much that talk meant to my son. To this day, I'm sure he has no idea how much it meant to me.
Latham goes on to point out that so often youth say, "The only time my parents really talk to me is when they want to know where I am going or where I've been or why I used up so much gas." Youth want to just talk about things without being taught anything and without judgment.
In our love for our children it is so easy to get caught in the "correct and teach them every minute" mode. As we acknowledge compliments about them in a positive way in front of them and find time to interact just as people enjoying one another, we will build a relationship that is meaningful.