Last week was Thanksgiving and we were able to spend several days with my in-laws and my kids got to play with some of their cousins. As I was talking about mom-stuff with one of my sisters-in-law, we started talking about the different personalities emerging from our growing children. Some of them are more sensitive, others confident, some defiant, some more helpful.
We agreed that we wouldn’t change our kids, even if we could, and it was interesting to see them all interact over three days. One thing we talked about a little was building the confidence of the ones that needed it. And that made me think about a part of childhood I think it’s easy for adults to overlook. Children need encouragement and praise.
Sometimes it’s easy to look at what our children show us - a chore complete, a craft designed, a room cleaned - and it doesn’t meet with what we would consider a good job. So we tell them what’s wrong with the picture they painted, the spots on the window they missed, the wrinkles not straightened on the bedcovers. Instead of looking at the job they did complete and the accomplishment they did do, we are often too quick to point out what is wrong with their effort.
So why is this a problem? Think about it in your present life situation. Do you enjoy always having the negative of your efforts pointed out? Do you enjoy hearing, “Good, but not good enough”? Would you like your boss or spouse or friend to always tell you what you are doing wrong? I believe if we are honest we have all been in that position and found it uncomfortable and frustrating. Why try our best when we know it will be picked apart and all our work will be devalued?
For the Christian, we know that God has created everyone and given everyone talents and abilities to use for his glory. Children are learning not only how to do things like chores and drawing and reading and serving, they are learning how they can use their particular talents in a broader sense to serve God. But if their tries and efforts are constantly ignored or corrected without any mention of well done, good try, etc, they will soon stop trying and maybe think they aren’t good enough at anything to contribute to.
Before I go on, I want to point out I’m not advocating we never tell children no or instruct them in how to do things. Children need guidance and help, especially when learning a new skill or task. And many times a firm no is needed to keep children from danger they don’t see or recognize. However, it is possible to guide and instruct, to correct and rebuke in a loving way and with some positive remarks.
I struggle with this sometimes. It’s not easy to put aside our first reaction and choose something more loving. But one recent event keeps coming to mind that taught me so much about the importance of choosing encouraging words over critical ones.
My children have their own bathroom with a large counter and mirror. I have occasionally given them the Windex and papertowels and asked them to clean their area. One day my four year old son came running to get me with pure excitement on his face. He took my hand and dragged me into their bathroom with a triumphant point at the mirror. You couldn’t see your reflection for all the smears and smudges. He quickly explained that he saw the mirror was dirty, grabbed his spray bottle full of water, and went to town, wiping it all with a washcloth. My first thought was to be upset that he had created more work for me. But then I looked at his face - practically glowing with pride - and I changed my response. With a hug, I told him I appreciated his desire to help without being asked but then I reminded him we use a special spray bottle to clean mirrors. I took what he would need into the bathroom and he cleaned the whole mirror again, just as excited as before. After another hug, I told him he could clean the bathroom whenever he wanted but to ask me for the special spray first.
Children really do thrive with just a few words of encouragement. A thank you or good job can go so far. And you don’t have to only praise your kids! If you work with children in sports, school, church, etc, recognize their efforts and congratulate them on a job or a try well done.
I’m afraid sometimes we withhold praise because we don’t want our children to think they are perfect or above others. But trust me, my children know they are sinners, that Jesus is the only perfect person, and that everyone on earth is created equal in God’s eyes. But I also want them to know I see their efforts, I appreciate their tries and attempts with new things. I never want them to give up because of something negative I said to them.
How can you encourage your children today?
Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash