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.