Encouragement to Encourage

I just interviewed a nanny who talked about her belief in the importance of praising and encouraging children. I was excited to hear her passion and understanding of the value of encouragement.

Children have a great ability to live up to our expectations which we often communicate to them through our praise and encouragement. However, they also have an amazing ability to live down to expectations when the adults around them communicate their lack of belief in the them. So it is vital that we become good encouragers to help our children reach their full potential.

Here are few tips about encouragement:

First, look for opportunities to put meaningful labels on positive behavior you see in children. “You and your brother are demonstrating great teamwork!” “Cleaning that up before you were asked shows great initiative!” “Sticking with your homework even though it was frustrating demonstrated great persistence (or tenacity – a great word for older children.), I’m really proud of you.”

Use of meaningful labels helps children understand why you are praising them. If they simply hear “great job!!”, they may not know what behavior you are impressed with. Good encouragement also leads to more positive behaviors.

Second, avoid using encouragement to try to build a child up when they are frustrated. If your child draws a picture and tells you they think it looks terrible, your natural tendency might be to tell them that you think their picture is great. But this typically causes them more frustration because you are trying to convince them that their feelings/thoughts about the picture are wrong.

Instead, try to begin by connecting with them in their frustration. For example, “It’s really hard to draw a person, isn’t it?” Or, “You are frustrated that your horse doesn’t look more like the horses your cousin, Jordan, draws.”

Once you have connected with them in their frustration, you can look for a healthy way to encourage them. For example, “I’m impressed that you keep working on making your horses better. Horses are really hard to draw, but you are showing great determination to get better.” Or, “The fact that you are getting frustrated shows me that you have a desire to draw really great looking horses. A lot of kids your age don’t care that much. I think that shows you have a real artistic side to you.”

Finally, if you are having behavioral struggles with a child, its time to double down on your praise and encouragement. Sometimes when a child is misbehaving, we have a tendency to focus in on that behavior. This leads to a situation in which the child feels like all he hears is negatively related to his behavior. Then it may seem to her like his parent/teacher/nanny only cares about the bad behavior.

If you are struggling with a child’s behavior, look for every opportunity to affirm them. Look for small actions or words that you can praise. Look for ways to give positive attention and show your child that you think she is great. When the time for discipline comes, the child knows that you think highly of her. She feels good about her relationship with you so it is much easier to accept the consequences of her actions.

There have been articles written lately claiming that the younger generation has great self-esteem in spite of their incredible lack of skills, character and motivation. The goal of praising children is not just to build their self esteem. Good praise and encouragement should also contribute toward the building of skills, character, and motivation.

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