Encouragement doesn’t always work as we might think. A sincere “You’re doing a great job” may elicit an angry reaction if the job doesn’t measure up to the worker’s personal standards. Even if those standards are unreasonable.
Here are some better ways of encouraging children to live effective and ever-improving lives.
Avoid implying that only results count: even messy results deliver value through experience gained and lessons learned. Focus on the effort that goes into the project—and on enjoying the effort for its own sake.
Some parents are so worried about their kids getting hurt—emotionally as well as physically—that they “protect” them from taking any risks. All this encourages is the idea that the kids are too helpless and incompetent to handle anything on their own.
Trial and error is the legitimate price of discovering personal competence. You may worry that your kids will be shattered if their self-designed engineering projects don’t work—but it’s more discouraging if you advise them not to try.
Let them do their own homework and clean their own rooms (and deal with the consequences if they don’t). At the same time, insist that everyone choose regular chores and take a hand in maintaining communal household areas.
If a child breaks something valuable or violates a house rule, address the problem rather than criticizing the person. And focus on finding solutions, not assigning blame.
If they want to try out for baseball, enter the science fair, or go to art camp instead of hiking camp, let them. And give them some say in what vegetables to serve with dinner (let them help cook!).
If your daughter is proud of her painting and it looks to you like a meal rejected by the stomach—let her frame it anyway. You don’t have to pay it insincere compliments, but neither should you consider your personal taste the ultimate judgment seat.
Values comprise nonnegotiable standards of integrity. Hobbies and career choices are unique to each individual. If your children’s interests don’t match yours, don’t confuse that with a violation of values.
You have a right to insist they respect your values, but no right to tell them what to think. Let them state their opinions in full, even when having their way isn’t an option.
Look them in the eye. Repeat what they’ve said in your own words, if you need to clarify. And no interrupting allowed!
Ask about their leisure activities, their friends, how they’d like to resolve their problems.
Join them in their favorite activities. Attend their events. Schedule regular one-on-one time with each child, no outside communications allowed. Nothing encourages like the feeling you’re worthy of someone’s attention!