Summer often gives us the opportunity to spend more time with our children. What a great time to practice new parenting skills!
In my workshops and consultations, I urge parents to be very clear about their intentions when interacting with their children. Do we want children to grow up anxious, dependent and needy? Or do we want children to develop confidence in their ability to try new things, work hard and respectfully express their needs, opinions and desires? Most parents will agree: We want children to feel good about themselves based on their own conclusions rather than be dependent on others telling them how good they are.
Aim to encourage your child instead of dishing out praise or criticism. This summer, try making this one big change to initiate a parenting habit that will help nurture a more self-assured, independent child over time.
Scrub the words “good” and “bad” from your vocabulary. These words may seem simple and harmless, but they are powerful labels that can suppress a child’s ability to explore who he is or artificially elevate his sense of self and make his self-worth dependent upon others’ feedback.
Instead, find ways to encourage and reflect rather than review and rate. Praise focuses on the product, while encouragement focuses on the effort.
Example: Your 3-year-old brings you a drawing she’s been working on and says with a big smile, “Mommy, look!” If you say, “Sweetie, that is beautiful! Good job!” you have just reviewed and rated your daughter’s product. If alternatively you say, “You spent a lot of time working on this. Look at all the colors you chose to use. I can tell by the smile on your face that you are very proud,” then you are acknowledging the emotion (pride and pleasure in her own effort) that she is presenting, reflecting back your observation of the effort she put forth, and encouraging her to continue to work hard and feel proud of herself.
Example: Your 4-year-old takes his plate to the kitchen sink after dinner. Instead of saying, “Good job, Johnny!” tell him, “Thank you for carrying your dish to the sink. That was very helpful! I appreciate it when you help me in the kitchen.”
An occasional pat on the back and “good job” is not ill-advised. In fact, every once in a while some praise in healthy doses can be a nice peppering of positive reinforcement. Day in and day out, however, you will see a longer-lasting positive result, higher levels of self-esteem, and more motivation and initiative in your children if you provide reflective encouragement rather than ratings and reviews.
This technique requires practice: We have to monitor our reactions internally and catch ourselves before we respond to our children. We may feel thrilled with our child’s performance and have an urge to say, “You’re great!” or be furious that they’ve left their wet towels on the floor for the hundredth time, but this practice helps us catch ourselves before we blurt out criticism or praise. In both cases, we can encourage our children to take responsibility for their achievements and shortcomings.
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