There are some things your kid admittedly doesn't do very well: Maybe he is a social or an athletic klutz. Whatever the problem, you want to help him get over it. And so, you try to jolt him into action by teasing: "Hey, look at you," you say. "You're gonna grow up to be the life of the party!" Then you laugh just to let him know you're only teasing.
You're not teasing; you're cruelly ridiculing. Sarcastic remarks like that hurt, and the ridicule they heap on your child can leave wounds of rejection that will keep him from ever being the life of anybody's party.
Well, you say, you're not trying to make things worse. You love your kid. You just want him to make the most of himself.
Of course you do. And the way to be helpful is not through ridicule, but through applause:
* First, change your focus. Instead of harping on what you view as negative, focus on the good things your child is doing (even little stuff) and compliment him about it. As he notices that you think well of him, he will think well of himself and so gain confidence.
* Encourage him to develop his talents and to excel. As he becomes pleased by the results, he will gain the enthusiasm to try new things.
* Question yourself about the areas in which you consider your child's lacking -- will time or growth take care of those deficits? Are you over-reacting? Is it your need (instead of his) that he shine? Is what you expect of him unrealistic?
* Is it really important that he be proficient in your area of concern? If it is genuinely in his best interests to succeed in that way, take things in small stages, encouraging and complimenting him whenever possible.
*And, never, ever, tease your child. Remember, he is uniquely himself. Your job, by affirming him, is to help him be proud of that and make the most of it.
Barbara Turk is a psychotherapist in private practice.