In a given day, a child may endure an argument with a friend, a disapproving remark from a teacher, a bad grade, or any other number of discouraging experiences. As a parent, you want your child to move past these experiences, learn from them, and maintain a positive outlook. The best way for you to help them with this, is to make sure they always feel encouraged and inspired. Unfortunately, many of the things that parents do and say may not work as well as they intend. If you want to raise resilient and positive children, try a few of the following techniques.
1. Acknowledge Effort Regardless of Results
Think about the things you say to your children when they succeed. Do any of the following phrases sound familiar?
- You are so smart!
- You are such a great athlete!
Then, when they don’t succeed, you probably encourage them to work harder, and to try again next time. If this is true, you aren’t alone. This is probably how most parents encourage their children. After all, doesn’t it make sense to praise children when they do well, and encourage them when they do poorly?
As it turns out, giving this kind of praise doesn’t have the intended effect at all. Children who are complimented on their achievements are actually less likely to work hard and try to improve themselves. Instead, they tend to stick to safe activities where they know they will succeed and get the praise that they crave. They also tend to become competitive in an unhealthy way. They don’t just seek praise, they also want to know that they are receiving more praise than others.
The children who benefit most from praise are the ones whose parents acknowledge effort over results. These kids tend to work harder and challenge themselves because it is their hard work that earns them the positive affirmations that they crave from their parents. Here are a few phrases that praise effort instead of results.
- I know you spent a long time working hard on that project.
- You sure broke a sweat out there on the court.
- You’ve really been studying hard to memorize those vocabulary words.
- You practiced for two whole hours! I’m proud of you..
2. Ask Open Ended Questions
One way to raise a child who feels inspired and encouraged is to simply let them speak, and to genuinely listen to them. You can do this by replacing questions that can be answered yes or no, with open ended questions that allow your child to speak about what is going on in their lives. You can take this one step further by responding to what they say with even more open ended questions such as, ‘Why do you think that happened?’ or ‘How did you feel when she said that to you?’. This accomplishes two things. First, you are avoiding the tendency that many parents have to turn conversations into lectures or instructional sessions. In addition to that, you are also encouraging your child to get to know themselves and explore their own feelings a bit more. Remember that it is crucial that your child walks away from discussions with you feeling encouraged and not criticized.
3. Be Open About Your Failures
Many times, when children fail at something or make a mistake, they feel as if they are the only person in the world who could have possibly messed up that badly. Not only is this feeling terribly isolating, it can also cause your child to feel extremely discouraged. It is during these times that they need to be inspired to pick themselves up and forward. One of the best things that you can do as a parent to help them is to share stories of your mistakes and failures, and then show how you were able to recover and move on. When you do this, your child will see that they aren’t the only one who falls short at times, and that there is no mistake they can make from which they cannot move on.
4. Let Them Tell You How You Can Help
One issue that many parents run into when trying to encourage their children is the tendency to help on their terms, and not on the child’s terms. For example, after a disappointing loss, the parent of a young baseball player might spend the car ride home offering lots of sympathy and encouragement. They may even stop to pick up a treat in an effort to cheer the child up.
All of this is wonderful, if these are the things that truly make the child feel better. Unfortunately, if this is not what the child needs, they may end up feeling more frustrated and discouraged. This is why, one of the most loving things a parent can do for a child is to simply ask them what they need when they are discouraged or disappointed and then listen to what they say. It may be that the child simply needs some time, left alone, to process what happened and sort out their own feelings without a lot of discussion.