Children come to us the way they are: easy going or high spirited, friendly or timid.
We can’t transform them into something they are not. We can enjoy them as is and encourage them to grow and learn. Life experience molds them; courage gives children the heart to thrive.
Webster’s University Dictionary says that to encourage means “to inspire with hope, courage or confidence; hearten.” In his book, Quality Parenting, Dr. Michael Popkin says “For children to gain confidence in themselves and to flourish, they need from their parents an essential ingredient of quality parenting – encouragement.” To give courage to children parents can:
- Eliminate the negative. Negative comments discourage. An amazed mother recently wrote to Ann Landers about how she had consciously refrained from making any negative comments to or about her 12-year-old daughter for one month. She went on to describe how miraculously her daughter’s behavior had improved, benefitting their relationship.
- Give respect. Everyone has the right to be treated with consideration. Our goal should be never to speak to children in a way we would not tolerate from them. When we show respect to our children we show them how to treat others.
- Notice what they do right. Give attention to what they do well. Notice even the expected. “Thanks for doing such a good job on the dishes.” Appreciation is encouraging.
- Listen like you mean it. Be available and user friendly. Listen without comment, opinion, advice or judgment. Give your full attention, the way you would if a client were speaking to you. Listen through their troubles with empathy. Avoid comments like “You should have” and use ones like, “You must have felt terrible.” Knowing someone cares gives hope.
- Speak with kindness. Words make a difference. Choose your words carefully because once they are out there, there is no taking them back. Children are very literal and take teasing personally. Their brains don’t grasp “just kidding.” Be kind and tactful. Teasing can discourage.
- Be who you want them to be. Follow your own rules. If you want your child to eat healthy food, be respectful, exercise, keep his room clean or be responsible with money you must do it. Otherwise they think it’s a kids-only rule and are not inspired to follow it.
- Have fun together. A local police officer told me that he and his wife had signed up for a parenting class “because, even though I am a good disciplinarian our 12-year-old daughter was getting too rebellious and taking her younger brother along with her.” The parents first week’s homework was to do something fun (not TV) for 20 minutes every day with each child. He thought it was weird but did it faithfully for a week. They played games, went for walks, had a soda, made pizza, even did chores together. “I couldn’t imagine what it would do, but when we went back to class I had to admit I enjoyed it and there was a major improvement in their attitudes.” The gift of time makes children feel loved.
- Come to the table. Leave your electronic friends behind. A family dinner is the perfect time to share the day, tell stories and laugh. Our lives are so full, this is the time to enjoy each others’ company and applaud each others’ successes. Make it a priority. Dinner with the family nourishes body and soul.
- Stay Positive. Start each day with a smile and “Good morning” when you first see your child. When you say goodbye to them, send them off with good wishes for a happy day. In the afternoon greet them with a smile and a sparkle in your eyes. Send them to bed knowing how much you like being their parent.
Parents cannot change children. We can love them, enjoy them and believe in them. We can offer them encouragement.
With children, every day is a fresh start and parents don’t have to be perfect. It takes courage to stand up to the challenges of the day, especially for children. We can show our children we have confidence in them. We can be positive, respectful, kind and encouraging. Because as Popkin says, “Encouraging our children, in any way, is a very loving thing to do.”
Eleanor Wolf has taught and worked with teenagers, babies and parents for more than 15 years. She has two children and is a freelance writer and professional speaker.