Monday, November 28, 2011

Understanding the Importance of Encouragement

by Emily Suggs, LPC

In conclusion of November's blogs, "Understanding Your Child", I felt it important to focus on the importance of encouragement as a part of your child's development. It appears many people think they understand encouragement when they actually confuse encouragement with praise.  In Jane Nelson's book Positive Discipline, she clearly distinguishes between praise and encouragement. Praise is defined as "to express favorable judgment of, an expression of approval, or to glorify, especially by attribution of perfection." Encouragement is "to inspire with courage, or to spur on, stimulate." Praise teaches children to feel worthwhile when others approve or to be dependent on others’ approval, but encouragement teaches children to feel self-confident and how to think for themselves. An encouraging statement recognizes effort and improvement ("You gave it your best" or "Look how hard you worked") whereas a praise statement robs an individual of ownership of own achievements and implies perfection ("You did it right" or "I'm proud of you for getting an A").

For most parents, praise comes more naturally than encouragement. And if you are like me, then you probably thought you have been encouraging your child when in reality you have been using praise. However learning to use encouragement takes intentional practice. I have found a strategy that has been helpful in encouraging children.  The four “crucial C's” is rooted in the philosophy of Adlerian psychology and has been used to help parents nurture and encourage their children towards being successful members of society (Bettner and Lew, 2005). The crucial C's are 1)Connect, 2)Capable, 3)Count, and 4)Courage. Here is how these can be used to help encourage children. Ask yourself if your actions, words, and thoughts towards your child reflect these four areas:

Connect: Do you communicate that your child belongs and has a place in your family just the way they are? A child's family is his first experience with belonging to a group. If the family does not accept them unconditionally then how can they expect others to accept them without judgment? A child's family teaches him about being connected socially with others. Therefore it is very important what messages are communicated about a child's acceptance in the family.

Capable: Do you communicate to your child, "You can do it?" Children need to feel that they capable of accomplishing hard tasks. Never do for your children what they can do for themselves. Encourage them that they are capable of success.

Count: Do you communicate that your child's contribution to your family and society counts? Do you let her know that she can make a difference? Encourage that her dreams and aspirations matter. Encourage her to make a difference in society.

Courage: Do you communicate that it is okay to make mistakes? Or does your own anxiety and perfection hinder you from allowing your child to attempt new task? Children need to feel they can handle what comes. Allowing them to make mistakes and attempt new tasks gives them the courage to face life challenges. But when parents attempt to control all aspects of a child's life then they are actually robbing the child of the ability to develop resilience.

As this blog concludes this four week series, I hope it has equipped, empowered, and encouraged you to better understand your child, as well as to work towards being more attuned to the needs of your child. Remember parenting is hard work!  And takes an intentional, conscious decision to improve our skills as parents.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Understanding How Your Child's Birth Order Affects Behavior

by Emily Suggs, LPC

With kids out of school this week and traveling to visit family for Thanksgiving, chances are you will be around your children more than usual this week.  I always find it interesting to notice how siblings interact with one another during the holidays. The dreaded "sibling rivalry" will leave many parents pulling out their hair and  asking, "Why can't my kids just get along." You may even notice that some of what you are about to read even applies to your own siblings as well. My older brother still claims life was better before I came along and robbed him of being the center of attention. Although as adults we get along great and have outgrown our own sibling rivalry, it is clear how birth order has influenced the roles within our family along with our personalities.

Alfred Adler is known in the world of psychology as the pioneer of the birth order theory. He believed that the order of a child's birth in the family could influence their personality. Although there has been much debate from researchers about Adler's theory it cannot be denied that there are some truths to this theory. By understanding how birth order influences a child's feelings and behavior, a parent will be able to distinguish between normal sibling conflict and ways to address other behaviors in a proactive manner.

The following is a simplified overview of Adler's Birth Order Theory, but is not limited to the information provided.  Along with the birth order information, I have provided a challenge to keep in mind when interacting with your child.

The Only Child
  • prefers to be the center of attention
  •  likes to be leader or in charge
  •  prefers adult company
  • verbally articulate and mature
  • may become over protected and spoiled

Challenge: Remember they are still a child, not an adult. Be careful not to over indulge or spoil.

The Oldest
  • likes to be the leader or in charge
  • parents often have high expectations
  • overachievers
  • very responsible and helpful
  • bossy
  • feels dethroned by siblings

Challenge: Find opportunities to entrust responsibilities but be careful that your expectations do not cause them to feel inadequate or stressed.

The Second
  • competitive, tries to outdo everyone
  • can be seen as a rebel
  • wants to overtake older sibling
  • independent
  • expressive and creative
  • often initiates sibling rivalry

Challenge: Help them discover their own unique talents and gifts without feeling like they are living in the shadow of the first born.

The Middle
  • competitive
  • good social skills
  • adaptable
  • feels forgotten
  • even-tempered
  • fights for justice

Challenge: Set aside one on one time so you communicate they are not forgotten. Encourage them to embrace their personality and good social skills.

The Youngest
  • spoiled
  • never "dethroned"
  • often gets their way
  • irresponsible
  •  rule breaker
  • charming and adventurous
  • wants to be bigger than siblings

Challenge: Be careful not to enable the youngest child. Hold them accountable and empower them just like you would the first born. Be careful not to spoil or over indulge the "baby" of the family.

As you spend the next week with your children, think about how your child's birth order influences their behavior, as well as, the way they see their role in your family. How can you help nurture their role? How can you establish consistency and equality through your interactions with your children? How can you balance your expectations so they do not feel inadequate or forgotten? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Five Love Languages of Children

by Emily Suggs, LPC

In the 1990's, Dr. Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages changed the way many couples communicated love in their relationships. This simple yet powerful book empowered couples to discover the love language of their spouse. By understanding each other's language, couples are able to communicate love to one another. The same concept was later applied to parenting in Dr. Chapman's book The Five Love Languages of Children.  Dr. Chapman believes that love languages begin to form and develop at an early age. He teaches parents that by speaking the love language of your child one is actually strengthening the bond between a parent and a child.

Parents can underestimate the power feeling loved has on a child’s behavior, self esteem, and ability to function in society. The above diagram demonstrates that there are five love languages of children. Every child has one language that is the dominate language or need. When a child’s love language is not met he may feel empty and unloved.

Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation refers to words of encouragement. It could be a simple “I love you” or a “you are so special”, whatever the words, they must be verbal and they must be encouraging. For a child with this love language just hearing his parent encourage him or express love verbally “fills” his love tank and allows him to function at a greater potential in school, home, and life in general.

Acts of Kindness
Helping with your child with homework, packing her lunch, or helping her learn to ride her bike are all examples of acts of kindness.  These gestures for some children communicate love and respect.  By helping, fixing, and doing the child who experiences love through acts of kindness will feel happy and understood.

Receiving Gifts
Every child loves birthdays and Christmas because of the gifts, but this love language is not about receiving "toys." Often "receiving gifts" is misunderstood with being materialistic, however, a child with this specific love language it is more about the thought or the effort. It may not be an expensive item or even a toy. It may be a simple gesture or homemade gift that communicates "I was thinking of you" or "I made this for you."

Quality Time
Quality time is sometimes the hardest one for parents to communicate. The daily lives of most families are so busy and hectic that finding 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to spend with your child seems next to impossible. However, for a child who needs quality time it is extremely important to give him your undivided attention in order for them to truly feel loved.

Physical Touch
Does your child embrace you with hugs and embellish you with kisses? Does she love to snuggle and beg for you to lie down with them at bedtime? If this is the case then your child may feel loved best by physical touch. A hug or simple pat on the back can communicate care, concern, and love.

We all experience the love languages in different ways throughout our lives. However one or two specific languages will usually make one feel more loved than another. For children, the same is true. After reading about the five love languages of children, which one or two best describes your child?

Over the next week, ask yourself the following questions to help you identify the primary love language of your child.
  • What is it my child is always asking me to do? (to play/talk, to hug, to help, to give, to encourage?)
  • When does my child appear the happiest and most fulfilled?
  • When does my child tend to misbehave the most? (when I don't spend time with him? when I don't show her affection? etc.)
Once the love language of your child has been determined, look for at least one way to communicate that love towards your child.  Allow for time before bed to talk to her about her day. Schedule a time to take your son to get ice cream. Surprise your daughter with a note of encouragement in her lunch box. Snuggle up and read a book together before bedtime. All of these are examples of ways to show love by speaking the love language of your child.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Understanding Your Child

by Emily Suggs, LPC

In working with families, I believe it is essential for to understand the uniqueness of how God created our child.  Every child has been created differently and I feel it is important for parents to embrace that uniqueness. A part of embracing the uniqueness is engaging in a process of discovering your child's personality  and potential.  There are a number of resources that exist which address child development, discipline, and parenting. Over the next four weeks, I plan to use a variety of resources I have used in my private practice  to help equip parents to better understand who their child is and how to embrace their child's strengths and weaknesses.

In the next weeks, I will address four areas.  Most parents desire for their child to grow up to be healthy and successful. Sometimes parents have concerns about whether their child's behaviors (or misbehaviors)  when in reality it falls within the normal range of an healthy individual. Throughout the next few weeks I will even challenge you with "homework" assignments to put some of these concepts into practice.

Week 1:  How can you embrace your child's personality?

Week 2: How can you help your child feel loved?

Week 3: How does birth order influence your child's perspective on life?

Week 4: How can you help my child reach his/her full potential?

There is a variety of research and information about personality development . There are even online profiles and tests that one can take to discover one's specific personality type. However, it is not  quite as easy when it comes to the personality of children. A person's personality can change tremendously throughout a lifetime sometimes due to family or environment influences and other times due to natural growth and development.  Yet I still find it helpful for parenting when you  are able to identify the natural tendencies of your child.

In working with children and families, I use the following four categories and have parents identify which of the following four animals best describes their child?

The Turtle: This personality may come across slow and methodical but they tend to be very analytical and precise. They do things with perfection and expect others not to rush them. They may be satisfied with being alone rather than with large crowds. However when they face stress or conflict, they will retreat to their shell for safety.

The Frog: This personality has lots of energy. They naturally leap through life. They are very friendly as well as outgoing and love being around people. When faced with a challenge, the frog's motto is "it's all good." They are adaptable and active. Although they are happy and fun, their social nature may get them in trouble when they talk too much at school or are constantly jumping from one thing to another.

The Alligator: This personality is what many adults know as the "A" type personality. They are happy as long as things go their way. When they face having to conform to the rules of others, they can become unruly. When embraced, they can be great leaders and very successful. They usually have a plan of how they would like things to be. Challenge that plan and it may be like trying to trap an alligator.

The Dragonfly: This personality lives in the moment. They have strength and power yet prefer peace and harmony. They are often cooperative and show empathy towards others. They can often put others needs before their own as well as worries about pleasing others. Because of this other may take advantage of their cooperative nature leaving them feeling hurt and disrespected.

After reading these descriptions, you may feel your child fits into more than one category. That is extremely common since our personality development is a very complex process.  The basis of providing the four categories is to help parents better understand that many strengths and weaknesses noticed in our children are due to personality types. Even as I am typing, my youngest daughter who has many traits consitent with the "frog" will not leave my side because she does not want to be alone and is talking non-stop.  Through understanding her personality, I know what to expect from her and how God designed her.  By knowing this, there are some specific things parents can do to embrace rather than smother their child's potential.

The Turtle:  The Turtle needs patience and gentleness. Impatience and anger only force her  to withdraw in her shell.  Let her know it is okay to not be perfect and make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of life.  Encourage and teach her to communicate feelings rather keeping them hidden inside.  When others hurt or disappoint her, be sensitive towards her feelings and do not dismiss how she feels. Allow her space or a time out when she needs  to calm down or process a situation.

The Frog:  The Frog is full of life and needs to be allowed to express his energy. By finding ways to allow him to use his energy in a positive manner, he learns to embrace his design. Although the frog can  be frustrating  and overwhelming for his parents with his constant chatter and excessive energy, he is very fragile and sensitive to criticism. The Frog may need to be taught specific skills that come natural for the other personalities. He may need to learn how to relax and calm down as well as self discipline and organizational skills.

The Alligator: The Alligator often rubs people in authority the wrong way. He is often misunderstood. Because his strong willed nature, he is often thought to be disrespecful and rebellious. When in fact he just likes to be the leader and make decisions. Balancing teaching respect and embracing the alligators design is a challenge for most parents. Some parents  feel the best way to tame him is to force him into submission. However, this approach only forces him to be more angry and rebellious. The alligator needs  a firm yet kind approach that allows him to make some choices when appropriate but also teaches him respect for others.

The Dragonfly: The Dragonfly because of its easygoing nature receives a lot of praise for all she does correctly. On the surface this trait appears to be a good thing, but actually makes her self-worth dependent on the approval and praise of others. Because she likes peace and harmony, she may forfeit her own happiness for the approval and happiness of others. This sounds very selfless and healthy when however it is very unhealthy. It is important to equip the dragonfly with the assertiveness to know when and how to take care of her own needs.

Homework for this week: After reading this entry, ask yourself which personality type best describes your child (or children) and look for one way you can embrace your child's personality this week.