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How to make Put-downs into Puff-Ups

Updated on September 11, 2012
All it takes are words of encouragement to boost their confidence
All it takes are words of encouragement to boost their confidence | Source

What is a Put- Down

A put-down is an unnecessarily negative statement that has the effect of making recipients feel less good about themselves, of damaging their self-respect and belief in themselves and their competence. It has a comment that says something derogatory about who someone is or about what a person can do. It is therefore something that addresses either personality or capability.


  • humiliate
  • lower dignity
  • damage self-respect
  • make someone feel small or unimportant
  • make someone feel incompetent
  • burst the bubble of confidence
  • give people bad feelings about themselves

Put-downs inevitably create some distance between the giver and the receiver, both because the person on the receiving end is bound to recoil at the sense of insult and humiliation ,and because the person who utters the offending comment establishes the space in the very act of putting himself in judgement over another.

A put-down is therefore also a 'push away'. It is a verbal assault. Put-downs can seriously damage relationships and individuals, especially if they are frequent. They can cause resentment and create distance and resistance . When the child grows up, his poor self image and lack of trust can affect all his subsequent relationships. Someone who is put down a lot will also be likely to stand up for others because ,far from the empathizing and feeling the same hurt or humiliation, they are more likely to relish the fact that someone else in the firing line for a change.

Yet put-downs are not always delivered with evil intent. They can become almost involuntary -said without thinking because we get into set ways of saying things and rarely think about their effect. Our words can become almost predetermined, as if they're scripted in a play.

If we are to establish a good and healthy relationship with our children, and convey to them that we like them and are comfortable with them, it i clear that we have to reduce the number of reprimands ,we use that undermine them. Deciding to change the script, and the put -down out of it, does not mean we can never tell children off. It does mean that we comment on their behavior in ways that do not damage their self-respect and make them doubt our commitment to them.

Why Are Children So Vulnerable to Put -Downs?

Deep down, most of us are quite insecure and it is very easy to believe the worst of what someone says about us. Children have fewer opportunities than adults to meet people outside the home who will give them independent feedback about how likeable they are. What is said to them at home, then. will have a significant impact, especially as it will be said by the people they love most in the world. It will need at least three-puff-ups to cancel the damage of one serious put-down.

What is a Puff-Up?

A puff-up is the opposite of a put-down. Instead or deflating someone's ego, it is a descriptive or affirmative comment that builds up people's view of themselves and makes them feel good about themselves and what they can do. It will allow their egos to swell a little, to puff-up with pride, and give them a warm glow of approval and achievement.

Many people dislike the idea of giving a little boost to their child's ego. It smacks of flattery. They think it might make their child swell-headed. However, provided a child realizes that his particular abilities, do not make him better as a person than others less talented, there is every reason to let him know what he i s good at. Unpleasant swell-headedness can be avoided as long as "good at" is not seen to be the same thing as " better than" in anything other than comparative skill terms.

  • Value them for who they are and praise them them for what they have done
  • Ensure that we value variety of skills so that children learn tolerance.
  • Teach that Good At means different from, not "better than.

With this framework ,children should be able to manage a much competitive environment that stimulates and challenges. and offer the incentive to achieve and improve. Contrary to widespread popular belief, the absence of challenge and competition does not necessarily make children feel happy and not threatened. Lack of challenge can damage self-esteem just as effectively as too much of the wrong kind of challenge.

Each step taken will be something to be proud of. It will not necessarily to be a smooth process
Each step taken will be something to be proud of. It will not necessarily to be a smooth process

Put Downs that Undermine Self-Esteem

Here are just a 10 examples on what we usually use as Put-Downs to our children and Alternatives on how to say them:

  1. You are so clumsy. Alternative: You've got so much going in your head; you're too busy to look where you're going!
  2. I can't take you anywhere. Alternative: I don't like how you behave when we go out , I know you can do better than that.
  3. Why don't you go and live with your Dad? Alternative: We need some colling-off time. Let's go into separate rooms and we'll talk again in 30 minutes.
  4. I'll throw you out if..... Alternative: When you behave like that, it makes you hard to live with. What is it you feel isn't going right?
  5. I'll send you away.......Alternative: That behavior is not acceptable. Do you realize how angry it makes me?
  6. I'll call the police........Alternative: You know what you did was wrong.

  7. Why are you always bothering me? Alternative: Now's not a good time. I'll listen better after dinner.
  8. Don't carry the milk bottle. You'll drop it. Alternative: Keep one hand underneath, then it won't slip.
  9. You'll never learn. Won't you ever learn? Alternative: These things are always harder than you think. Practice makes perfect
  10. I'll tell your teacher......Alternative: I don't think you're proud of what's happened. Let's make sure this doesn't happen again.

Sometimes we use put-downs because those are the words our parents used with us. There can be a feeling of comfort in returning to the familiar, however bad we felt when these things were said to us.

Being "in charge" of our children is often misinterpreted as being in control. If we feel we are losing control we might find it easier to belittle and humiliate our children than confront the more difficult issue of rediscovering our confidence and reasserting our responsibility and authority ,especially if we were put -down al ot ourselves as children.

Once we understand why we fall into habit of using put-downs ,we should find it easier to avoid them.


Submit a Comment

  • jolinabetts profile image

    Sunshine Diaz 5 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

    Hi GM Williams,Thank you very much on your comment, very much appreciate it. I also have experiences of put-downs from my mother when i was younger and it took sometime to adjust from all the conditioning that they instilled in me, all the negative vibe. I'm actually slowly getting there. I keep myself reminded that i was once a little girl and i got hurt and hoping my children won't experience the same thing.

  • gmwilliams profile image

    Grace Marguerite Williams 5 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

    This is an excellent hub. There are some parents who portend that they "critique" their children in order to make them more successful in life. Well, such is not necessarily the case. Constant criticism only diminishes the child's sense of self.

    These are the same parents who are extremely loathe to praise their children when they do good. They believe that they should not have to praise their children for good behavior. They stated that it should be a given that their children have good behavior. They only say something when their children have less than positive behavior.

    This, of course, is not good for children. There are some children who thrive on negative attention. These children reason that if their parents only notice them for bad behavior, they might as well misbehave in order to garner the negative attention. They believe that any attention, even negative, is better than no attention at all which is sad.

    This parental behavior account for many people having a shaky sense of self-esteem and visits to psychologists and psychiatrists. Great hub, voted up!