Monday, August 19, 2013

Mommy Monday: How To Encourage Children

How To Encourage Children

All parents want to encourage their kids to grow and thrive. But how do we do that? What are the best ways to encourage our kids so that they’ll grow to be kind, confident, capable adults? Many parents use the terms praise and encouragement interchangeably, as they feel that if a child is praised for her behavior, then she is “encouraged” to do it again. But they are, indeed, different. Praise is an external motivator: an evaluation of behavior, while encouragement addresses the value found within the behavior. More effective than giving kids praise and external validation is to encourage kids to find their own praise; to teach them to recognize their own capabilities, make thoughtful decisions, and accept themselves unconditionally. A parent’s words of encouragement provide internal motivation for kids. They convey acceptance over approval and have long-lasting value in helping kids grow and thrive. Here are four phrases you can say to kids that encourage growth and inspire confidence:

“I appreciate your help!”
When a child does something helpful, the most meaningful and effective response we can give is “Thanks!” More appropriate than “Good job,” thanking children for their help conveys the value of it. Instead of praising what a child has done as “good,” communicate your genuine gratitude for it. After all, that’s the true reason help is good! It is that appreciation that allows children to feel how important their contributions are—how important they are—to the family. Children are filled with a sense of their own goodness. Telling a child thank you for his help is no less positive than telling him good job, but the difference is significant.
“Wow, you worked hard!”
What better way to celebrate a child’s accomplishment than by acknowledging the effort it took to get there? It’s much more meaningful to recognize the work that went into an achievement than to simply praise the results with a “good job!” Responding instead with, “I can tell you put a lot of time into this,” encourages kids to develop a strong work ethic. The child becomes the one to say, “Yeah, I did work hard! Yes, I am happy with how it turned out! I did a good job on this!” Kids develop their internal motivation when they are the ones to decide, “Yes, I am proud of myself!”
“You lead the way.”
Whether it’s making your weekly walk to the park with your child, baking a batch of cookies together, or navigating the choices of an important decision, you can communicate trust to your child by allowing her to take the lead. Yes, she might make mistakes, but this kind of autonomy is very empowering as it allows a child to develop confidence in herself. She feels your trust in her judgment, as well as your support in fixing any mistakes, and learns to trust herself, too. Encouraging children to take the lead in their own lives sets them up for a lifetime of making thoughtful, confident decisions.
“I’m listening.”
Listening to our kids is one of the best ways we can encourage them. Nothing says, “You matter to me,” like being open and receptive to what a child has to say. When we take the time to communicate our understanding and acceptance by listening attentively, children feel a strong sense of significance and belonging; they know they have an important place in our hearts. Every day, find an opportunity to tell your kids, “I’m listening.” Show them that you mean it by echoing their statements (“When you went outside for recess, your usual playmates weren’t there”), empathizing (“You must have felt lonely”), and asking questions about what they’ve said (“What did you decide to do?”). When we listen to our children with a goal of understanding them—as opposed to answering, rationalizing, or minimizing their thoughts—we are giving them the emotional encouragement they need to feel known.

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