Have you noticed how perceptive kids are?
They seem to have an uncanny ability to pick up on the exact things that adults try to disguise or dismiss; and not only do they pick up on them, they also tend focus on them. Because they are still in the process of learning the social norms and guidelines that direct the majority of social interactions, children tend to be extremely sensitive to how the adults in their lives act and react around them. Kids depend on their parents, caregivers, and other adults in their lives to teach them how to regulate their own emotions and manage in different situations. So, when a child believes that the adults around them don’t like them, it can fundamentally alter how they interact with the world.
It seems hard to imagine that, outside of an abusive situation, a child would internalize negative beliefs about themselves. However, it does not have to be a directly negative statement for it to negatively impact a child’s self-image. Comments from caregivers about children being needy, attention-seeking, overly dramatic, wild, or almost any other description can come across as negative especially if it’s paired with nonverbal behaviors that reinforce a negative message.
Just like adults tell kids, adults also need to be aware of their tone of voice and body language when communicating with and about the children they are around. And while there is definitely a case to be made about being honest with children, being completely open with a child by telling them that they find this child annoying because of a certain behavior or question or whatever has the potential to teach that child not that the behavior is annoying but that they themselves are annoying. That belief then has the potential to create a kind of domino effect where the child either continually questions themselves or goes “all in” on those negative behaviors.
Redirection that also includes encouragement and grace is essential in order for children to understand that making mistakes does not define them, that their personality is not inherently wrong, and that they deserve just as much love and attention as anyone else. It is crucial for any adult who interacts with children to be intentional with how they speak and how they act because it lays the groundwork for how that child interacts with the rest of the world.