To encourage someone is to literally “give courage”. As parents, we need a lot of encouragement, don’t we? We crave the affirmation of our spouses, our bosses, our friends and family, and even our kids. How much more do our children, small and vulnerable as they are, need encouragement in their day-to-day growth and development, in trying new things and learning new skills, and eventually, in chasing their dreams?
Here are five ways you can encourage your child, at whichever stage of life he or she might be.
1. Do it together
The gift of your time is a precious one, and indeed, a priceless one, to our children. Coming alongside your child as he is doing something scary or new or difficult or stressful can assure him that Daddy or Mummy is right here with me.
Instead of watching from the door while your child tries to balance on his two-wheeler, take your own bike and straddle it alongside him. Instead of shouting out commands from the side of the pool, get in there along with her. Instead of directing your child to put the next scoop into his mouth, take your next scoop together – 1, 2, 3, yum!
2. Make your words count
We all know this, but we often forget how important our words are to our children. Choose your words carefully, especially in a stressful situation – especially when you are beginning to feel frustrated with your child about his lack of courage or gumption about something in particular.
Our words have the power to tear down an already-struggling spirit, or to lift him up to fight another day. Bite your tongue and hold back on all the mean or hurtful things that might be rising to the surface (let’s be honest, we all struggle with not saying these things to our kids, don’t we?) and focus on the good, on the effort made, on the fact that your child might be sad/scared/mad but still hasn’t given up yet. Maybe today is not the day of success, but it does not need to be a day of giving up either.
For older children, you can leave little notes for them to encourage them along the way. Have a note on their plates at breakfast, or hide them in their school bags for them to find. A little bit of encouragement a lot of the time is better than a lot of encouragement in one shot.
3. Give a hug
Such a simple thing that won’t cost you anything, and hardly any time, but can mean the world to your anxious, defeated or frightened child. A hug says “I care and I know this feels awful right now.” A hug shows you are there for your child. A hug symbolically transmits your own strength and confidence to your child, as you hold him or her close in your embrace. And a hug can be the most powerful thing to do when you just don’t know what to say or give to encourage your child’s spirit.
4. Let them eavesdrop
It’s one thing to personally praise your child, and quite another for him or her to hear you sharing about what you are proud about to others. Brag about your child’s achievement to your family and friends in their hearing, and watch them blossom. Tell your husband what a good job your son did at swimming class when you get home.
Of course, we don’t want to swing to the other extreme where you dole out lavish praises for every little thing. Although, being in our Asian culture where praise is not often given, that’s not likely to happen. Do remember to be specific about the things you are proud of your child for, eg. “She was so scared just now on the way to music class, but she decided to be brave and went into class happily.”
5. Gifts that motivate
While using gifts as the proverbial carrot on a stick all the time is not a good idea (extensive research has shown that motivating children to behave better by extrinsic means like rewards and benefits alone is not healthy or helpful in the long term), gifts can and should be part of the motivational process, and are definitely a useful tool in encouraging your little one to press on.
Gifts don’t have to be expensive or lavish either, most of the time. If he’s learning to read, set up a special reading corner in the house for him. If she’s scared to go to the new school, how about a little bunny toy that she can bring to school with her, to remind her that Mummy and Daddy love her very much? If she’s struggling to follow the steps in ballet class, perhaps you could bring her to watch a performance of Ballet Under The Stars as a special treat.
By Dorothea Chow