Encouraging Your Child series by Kathy Kuhl, Part 2
Adapted from Kathy’s upcoming book, Encouraging Your Child
Last time, I began to explain how to encourage our children, specifically what to praise when your child is struggling. Here are two more tips:
Praise their successes
When our children succeed, whether it’s a rare event or a common one, it’s natural to praise them. Our praise must be appropriate for the developmental ages of our children. Test yourself: if you were that age, would you want to be spoken to that way?
It’s easy for us to be excited when our child finally succeeds at something hard. But let’s not overdo it. We must take care not to overdo our praise so much that our kids stop believing us and think “Mom (or Dad)’s just saying that.”
Other parents praise in a backhanded way: “He struggles to finish his work. I keep telling him he’s smart, but he doesn’t believe me.” Now he may feel worse. He’s guilty not only of failure, but also not trusting you.
We also must not make our children think we expect perfection from now on. In our homeschool group, where I’ve taught geometry, I’ve seen kids very uncomfortable with success because they are afraid that their parents and I will expect success after their first success.
Sometimes we see success and say, “I told you if you tried hard you could do it.” But what it they’ve been trying hard all year? We don’t want to deny that effort. “Good job!” or “Your hard work is paying off. Keep trying!” is safer to say.
But even in areas where the child usually succeeds, a little thoughtful praise can help them keep going. If they’ve made an effort, recognize it.
I figure I’ve cooked supper for my husband about nine thousand times, and every time as he comes to the table, he’s found something good to say. Even if it’s just a cheerful “Look at this!” I never tire of having my work appreciated. Let’s give our kids the same little nudges to keep up the work.
Even small tasks are worth appreciating. Say “Thanks for setting the table,” “for taking out the trash,” or “for clearing your place,” to your six-year old, even if that is his daily job.
There is power in our gentle encouragement. The prophet Isaiah described the Lord’s servant as someone who would not break a bruised reed or quench a dimly burning wick. (Isaiah 42:3). You and I might think our child’s progress is feeble, like a reed that might as well be snapped off, or the wick might as well be blown out. But steady encouragement can be powerful help.
Has your family artist devoted a summer to trying watercolors or some other new medium? Has your musician started a new instrument? Many skills take years to perfect. But if your artist is refining her technique, or your budding musician is learning to keep a steady tempo, you have an opportunity to notice and praise progress.
When my son became an Eagle Scout, we asked a family friend, another Eagle Scout, to help lead in the ceremony where my son would receive this new rank. He demurred at first, saying he barely got through his Eagle requirements. But it didn’t matter. He was still an Eagle.
The sensitive child whose fingers waver through the piano recital can be reminded to practice more, but that should be a discussion for another day. That child deserves credit for finishing and not rushing off the stage in tears. The poorest players on the team should still be respected for showing up and working hard.
Celebrate graduates, not just valedictorians. And don’t wait until graduation day to acknowledge progress.
Adapted from Kathy Kuhl’s upcoming book, Encouraging Your Child.