Impactful Parenting: Encouragement in Action

Think back to your childhood and try to remember something that made you feel proud.  How do you remember deriving that sense of accomplishment?  Was it handed to you through some kind of evaluative praise, or were you left to simmer in its glory through simply being recognized for your hard work and focus?  The topic of praise versus encouragement is being magnified in both the education and parenting realms to better determine the effects that both styles of affirming our children has of their broader development.

As parents and members of society, we have been taught since early on to validate others by gracing them with a heartfelt, “good job!” when they accomplish something.  Another common phrase that we use with our kids to recognize a behavior that we approve of is, “good boy” or “good girl.”  The issue with relying on this kind of praise to express our approval is that it is a judgment.  By doing this we are teaching kids that a good result is what matters, while the process or journey, is negated.  This can set them up later to have a desperate hunger for perfectionism, codependency, or overall low self-esteem.

All too often we find adults who are struggling with a shaky sense of self that is dependent on conditions to be in their favor in order for them to be at peace.  This impulse to search for validation through others’ eyes is deep rooted and can be a complicated issue to resolve. This type of codependency is marked by an emotional vulnerability leaving one’s sense of stability up to chance, or more precisely, someone else’s ideas or behavior.  All too many times we are having to rewire our programming as adults to adopt a radical sense of self-acceptance and care, because it is a foreign concept to us.  Here are a few thoughts on how to spur a positive self-image and efficacy in our young ones.

Process not outcome.

Develop the habit of commenting on the action you see to acknowledge a child’s intentions.  This helps them to realize that their participation, energy, and interests are significant.  Making a comment such as, “I saw you put your backpack up on the hook.  I notice you are making an effort to stay more organized with your school things,” can help a child to feel supported and responsible for their behavior along with the feelings tied to their actions.

As always, be authentic.

An empty compliment falls flat, so pepper in the encouragement when it makes the most sense to do so. You don’t want to simply give a play-by-play of what a child is doing.  That can feel a bit smothering.  Instead, choose to highlight effort that is central to areas of improvement and accountability.  An example would be, “You are really getting into the habit of helping to set the dinner table.  That is so helpful.  Thank you.”  When you overindulge kids or give encouragement for things that are expected and done routinely, it can come across as patronizing to the child.  They know their capabilities, so always strive to encourage them in areas where they need it most and provide simple reminders in areas that they have already mastered.

Get them thinking.

The goal here is to prompt the child to begin to self-reflect and develop an internal dialogue that can help them connect with their own process. Try opening up the conversation about a subject in a way that helps the child think about how his/her actions had an effect.  You might say, “What has helped you to bring up your math grade?” or “What do you think will help you feel more confident at your softball game?” We want to help create competence and accountability in our kids so that they can own their successes, as well as learn from their mistakes.   

Highlight specific character strengths.

It is helpful to think in terms of a positive character trait a child is displaying so that we are shining a light on their personal strengths.  When we focus on a behavior through a lens of traits, it can help the child to connect a sense of pride to what they are doing. A few examples are: “It took courage of you to give that speech in front of your class and you were able to overcome your uncertainty.” or “That was considerate to invite Cameron to play with you guys.  I bet that made him feel really welcome.”

Would you rather strengthen or prize your kid?

What it all boils down to is:  Do we want to strengthen our kids in order to help them cope with challenges and grow through their experiences, or do we want to prize them for their victories? I think in a world that is so full of compromise and unpredictability, we would all wish our children to feel valid and worthy, no matter what set of circumstances.

If you are interested in further developing an approach to parenting that helps your family to grow in a supportive way, please call one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors to help guide you through the process.  Additionally, if you are noticing that you would simply like to have more efficacy and confidence in how you approach life issues and think you may benefit from a self-esteem tune up, please do not hesitate to contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services at (407) 443-8862.


Encouragement vs Praise


The Difference Between Praise and Encouragement

by: Vicki Hofle



LECS Counselor