One thing I know about successful parents is that they have clear boundaries and expectations for their children and they are consistently loving and firm. They set their children up for success in life by modeling positive skills and facilitating intrinsic motivation.
The idea of moving a child from extrinsic motivation–or getting praise and affirmation from outside themselves to feel good about themselves–to intrinsic motivation–having a positive, strong sense of self and knowing they are good and valuable within themselves without needing to hear it from others all the time is a central part of raising emotionally healthy children.
When you take the time to respond to children’s behaviors and requests in a loving, kind and nurturing way–no matter what form the behavior takes, then children learn that they are unconditionally loved and supported. This does not mean caving in to every desire and never guiding a child to better choices. It does mean looking at the child’s level of knowledge and skill, not your own levels as an adult with more life experience, and responding to children in a way that validates their emotions and teaches them a more socially acceptable or desirable way to get that emotional need met.
One of the main ways you can do this is by modeling healthy adult interactions and interactions with the child so that they learn from what you do, not just what you say. You can also begin to encourage children with statements like “It looks like you are working really hard.” or “I noticed that you were really mad and still remembered to use your words to tell me that you were angry.” This helps them really get which behaviors work well and to acknowledge themselves for their effort without you having to provide the praise or validation of the child.
Begin to notice what and how you are modeling behaviors to children, and take a look at whether those are the ones you want them to learn. If so, great–keep doing them! If your own behaviors are often not what you’d like to see in the children in your life, start changing them!