Encouragement brings people together. All parents want their children to become capable, kind, responsible people. Many of us have been taught to praise our children, or to “catch them while their good” as a way to set them on the right path. Increasingly, the evidence shows that praise creates approval junkies, people who rely on the judgment of others to know if they are good enough. Encouragement is a more effective tool to foster the behaviors you want your children to have and the kind of person you want them to be. Encouragement helps a child develop an internal sense of “I’m good enough”. They are able to look inside and know they gave their best effort. Encouragement builds confidence, independence and the ability to take risks and learn new things. From a strong internal sense of self, they can be helpful and generous with others.
Offering encouragement requires your presence. It is as much about “being” as it is about “doing.” Take a moment or two each day to notice and appreciate the young person(s) you are raising. Sharing those reflections will allow your son or daughter to begin to notice those things in him/herself.
Some tools parents can try:
- Recognize effort and improvement rather than focusing on the end result or finished product (“You worked hard on that project”, or “Wow, look how far you’ve come”.)
- Appreciate children’s contributions. “I appreciate _____,” or “Thanks for _______.”
- Ask curiosity questions. “How do you feel about your work?”, or ‘What do you think about ____?”.
- Understand and respect your child’s viewpoint, ideas, or opinions. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them
- Listen with curiosity and appreciation. Who is that young person? Where did that idea come from?
- Use compliments to build a sense of connection. Take time each week as a family to give compliments to each other. Start by giving compliments at the dinner table.
- Be a mirror for your child. Invite them to see what you see. It doesn’t always need to be positive. Being seen when you aren’t feeling so good is important too. “I noticed you had fun playing outside.” “It is hard to get out of bed this morning, and it is time to get up.”
- Model making and repairing mistakes.
A word of caution: being encouraging does not mean being permissive. Children also learn about who they are by bumping up against appropriate limits and clear expectations.