Encouragement, Praise and Self-esteem*
Building self-esteem is an important part of the emotional development. It is the belief that we belong and are accepted, strong and capable, loved.
We all like being recognized in our achievements and receiving compliments. But praise can actually be discouraging, if it’s the main way used to show appreciation of our children.
Praise is a reward, and needs to be earned. Through praise, we learn to please others instead of finding internal satisfaction. Praise does play a part in relationships, but if it becomes a habit, children may feel vulnerable and worried when they are not praised, or end up depending exclusively on other people’s feedback or judgments to feel worthwhile.
Encouragement, on the other hand, helps children learn to believe in themselves, and teaches them to find their own strengths and special qualities. It notices effort and improvement, not expecting perfection. While praise focuses on results, encouragement focuses on the process. By using encouragement, you can show that you accept the child and acknowledge his/her unique individual qualities.
When your child shows you something they have made, instead of automatically praising them by saying things like “good job”, “this is beautiful”, “you are great”, you can try noticing what is special, focusing on how they have done it and even asking the child “what do YOU think about it?” or “How did YOU feel when you were making this?”. It may feel unnatural at first, but encouragement is a skill and, like all other skills, it needs to be practiced. You can also use encouragement with other adults and, this is very important, you can encourage yourself and notice your own efforts as a parent.
Some other tips for using encouragement are:
Love and accept your child: Every child is special – good at some things and not so good at others. Accept them as they are. Don’t expect them to be perfect. Pointing out what is wrong doesn’t help them improve – it simply discourages them. Accept your child without accepting misbehavior – there are bad choices, not bad children.
Notice when your child tries or improves: Improvement takes time – every skill is made up of small steps and efforts, it’s a process and not a final result.
Give honest, timely feedback: the more specific and honest your feedback is, the more value it will have. Children know when we are telling them the truth and we can show respect by being honest with them. This builds trust in your relationship.
Have faith in your child. Expectations are powerful. Look at the big picture – don’t worry about the mistakes. Remember that “Growing up is a process – it takes years”.
*This article was based on the Parent Handbook from the STEP Program (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting). For more information please visit http://www.steppublishers.com/