How can I encourage my children? Something I hear very often, and I have experienced this scenario myself. Why aren’t children motivated? I want them to be able to do things for themselves rather than being told …

Does the above resonate with you?

Instead of the importance of connections, today I am going to talk about something totally different. It is about ENCOURAGEMENT! How do you really encourage your children to be self motivated, and why encouraging words are totally different from praise.

Praise sounds like this: Good boy, good girl, clever girl, clever boy, you are so cleaver, you are so smart…

Praise teaches children to “feel good” about themselves ONLY when they please you. It is about doing something in return for a good feeling that pleases the other party. However, people then become dependent upon constant approval.

Children need to feel valued, appreciated, loved and encouraged. So when you praise your child, like saying “good girl” or “good boy”… it sounds like he or she is good, rather than their achievements being good. It is indirectly a judgment of the child’s character/behavior, rather than appreciation of his or her accomplishments and effort.

What is the downside of praising your children too often?

Over time, they learn to depend on “external” factors to feel adequate and fulfilled. In other words, it teaches them to feel good only when they do what pleases others and not for themselves. Thus they lack self-motivation to achieve, and their self-worth is totally dependent on other people’s opinions.

For example, if your child also hears this “wow, you are a good girl for cleaning up the mess – it makes me really happy!”, your child feels good about the comment because what she is doing makes you feel happy. This statement is praising the child for being good, and by being good for making you happy.

So she believes that she must clean or do something that you like (even if she does not want to) in order to make you happy – i.e. gain your approval. Otherwise you will not be happy, thus not being good in your book – i.e. loved. As a result, your child will learn to repeat this same process in other areas of her life for the sake of yours or other people’s approval and love. In another word, her sense of self-worth is dependent on your approval or external approval.

However, if you were to say “wow, what a wonderful job with the cleaning. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and initiative”. You message shows appreciation by noticing what she is doing or had done, i.e. her individual effort.

Through this comment, your child hears: I have initiative and am thoughtful. Your child will feel pleased with the encouragement for who they are and the effort he/she puts in. This will enhance her self-esteem and self-worth. Thus he/she will be more motivated to do things for him/herself because he/she believes they are capable rather than seeking approval from external forces.

Recognising children’s effort, their strengths, their improvements and resilience will fuel them to have faith in their own ability. This builds their self-esteem and self-worth. Be specific and remember to focus on their effort and the process, rather than the outcome.

Have a connected day with your family.