Jeff Everage uses his own experiences, both as a child and as a father, to illustrate how parents can either be profoundly discouraging or profoundly encouraging. Which do you strive to be?
This article explains the foundation of encouragement and ways to provide encouragement to your children.
“All I really wanted was his attention and love, not to be proven wrong and incapable …”
I think we were both watching the TV. It was probably the news but I really don’t remember. I was young, maybe 9 or 10 years old. My brother Stephen was so young that I don’t really remember him being around. I’m guessing that he was with Mom because neither of them shows up when I visualize this happening.
On TV is the news showing a replay of a high school student who nailed a half-court shot to win the game at the last minute. My father is very impressed. I was very much after his attention. Since I was recently thrown off the “only child” throne, I am probably desperate for any attention.
“I could do that!” I say.
“No you can’t,” he replies.
Some sort of conversation happens and suddenly we are outside in the back yard, me with a basketball in my hand and him at the other end of the yard. We did not get many opportunities to play together, so this could have been a real treat for me, but it isn’t. I am faced with a challenge, and he is probably ready to get it over with so that he could watch more TV.
I throw the ball and it falls way short. I try again, failure. He heads inside and hesitates slightly to look at me. My adult self, looking back, senses from him that he realizes that this has gone all wrong, and that I’m super discouraged. He considers the situation and how he can help change it. I shift focus to practicing the throw again so that next time I can do it.
He heads inside. I throw the ball a few more times alone, get even more discourage and quit. Then my memory fades.
All I really wanted was his attention and love, not to be proven wrong and incapable. All he had to do was ask me to play some basketball with him. He just wasn’t able to see it. In hindsight, he had a failing marriage, a new child, and his depression to manage. I was pretty low on his priority list.
“I don’t want to tell him he can’t do it…”
35 years later, I’m a praise junkie. Not even the smallest effort from my oldest son gets by without clapping and yea-ing at an obnoxious volume. I don’t know if this habit came from dog training, watching TV, seeing others do it, reading misguided parenting books, or a knee-jerk reaction not to be like my own discouraging parents. Probably all of these are factors influencing my actions. Regardless, if it even looks remotely like good behavior, my son gets my fullest praising reaction. Two years later my son and I would go through some serious praise withdrawal as I practice being encouraging instead. If my experience is any indicator, it is worth the effort!
One day my son sees a picture of R2D2 and some videos of real robots and decides that he wants to build one himself. He is only 4.5 years old, and I know that he can’t. Cash was really tight at the time and I know that we can’t possibly even buy him a robot toy to stop him from continuing to bother us about it. He literally wines over and over again “I want to build a roooobbboooottt!” I don’t want to tell him that he can’t do it. I’m stuck.
I feel like my father as he walks back inside to finish watching the news. I know that I’m missing something fundamental. I don’t know what to do or say, so I just ignore it.
The Foundation of Encouragement
The foundation for showing encouragement to your children (or anyone) entails:
- A sense of selfless attention
- Detachment from the outcome
- Unconditional love
If you can hold these three moods and attitudes you will hardly need words to be encouraging. Just your full attention and presence will be enough. I’m going to write briefly about cultivating all three of these and the next section will focus on techniques you can use to make sure your words and actions work in concert with your mood. These concepts are designed to be practiced during any human interaction or even when just being an observer.
1. Selfless Attention
Selfless attention begins with your mood and ends with your point of focus. First check your mood. Are your children triggering you in some way? If so you may want to check the mistaken goals chart to determine what your child is really communicating.
Next check what your body is communicating:
- Did you put your phone, book, computer, etc. down?
- Are you facing them and giving them eye contact?
- What are your hands doing?
- Would it be appropriate to connect with them by touch?
Once you have given them your full attention, remind yourself that “this is all about them”. Listen to the children and listen to your own thoughts. If you are judging them (good or bad), ask curiosity questions to bring your attention back to them and away from what you think of them.
2. Detachment from the Outcome
Detachment from results and outcomes is a lifelong practice of not being hooked on any particular result (winning, doing things a certain way, etc). What this means with respect to your children is that how they perform, what they say, what they do, and anything else that you would want/expect from them needs to take a back seat to being present with them.
I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t have expectations. Being encouraging in the moment means that your judgment is not the focus of attention; your child is. You have to detach from your expectations when you communicate encouragement. Use family meetings to do problem solving that sets expectations in a firm and kind manner at a more appropriate time.
A great story that RCB instructor Susie Walton tells is when a man and his son are golfing and his son hits a hole in one. The father, having just taken the Redirecting Children’s Behavior, holds back from praising and instead asks his son how he pulled off such a good shot. His son’s reply was “I don’t really know, I guess I got super lucky!” Think of how much pressure he would have put on his son if he had immediately praised his son’s talent!
3. Unconditional Love
The third practice, unconditional love, means that you will never withhold love and affection regardless of your children’s behavior and regardless of how you feel. Never!
The Techniques of Encouragement
The great thing about practicing techniques while you work on presence, unconditional love and detachment is that you really can “fake it until you make it”. There is an incredible amount of evidence that our nervous system is” two-way.” We all intuitively know that when we feel a certain way it typically causes us to act in certain ways. We feel angry and we may act mean. We feel happy and we act nice. But did you know that simply forcing a smile is proven to help lift your mood? The foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy (a proven prescription free depression cure) is to practice new ways to think and act in order to improve your mood, become more resilient, and create more joy and happiness in your life.
With that in mind, practice these techniques for being encouraging to your children even when you don’t feel like it. You may be surprised that your mood will lift and you’ll put yourself in a virtuous cycle of encouragement not just in your lifetime but that may last generations.
How to Be a More Encouraging Parent
- Put anything distracting down and open your arms and body towards them.
- Give them a Genuine Encounter Moment.
- Teach them what you know they can do, don’t focus on what they can’t do.
- When it feels like they are getting in the way, tell them how they can help. Even little things will mean a lot to them.
- Be quiet and listen intently and do not interrupt the speaker until they are clearly done.
- Focuses on the deed more than the doer
- Say “Thank You,” rather than labeling them as ‘good boy’ or ‘big girl’
- Be specific
- Build internal motivation
- Stay away from using rewards/bribes, as it could set up the belief …”What’s in it for me?”
- Ask curiosity questions like:
- What do you like most about your drawing (or whatever they created)?
- What was your favorite part?
- How did it go? (This is great for when you just saw them do something you are really proud of, like a hole in one)
- Why did you get that award? What did you do to get that award?
- What would you like to do next? (i.e. more of the same, or do something different, so that they don’t feel pressure to keep doing what you like)
- Give lots of loving eye contact and touch (when appropriate) throughout the conversation.
- When they are done, you are done. Don’t linger on the subject. They will know when their cup is filled and will take off with a smile!
See even more techniques by self esteem boosters!
“Maybe we build a robot in the future…”
Having taken RCB I learned a few techniques for being encouraging and for determining mistaken goals. Since I felt annoyed when my oldest son asked to make a robot, I learned that he had the mistaken goal of undue attention and I learned to pause and get centered prior to responding to him. I also learned that with young children it is important to focus on what they can do and not what they can’t or shouldn’t be doing. Armed with this information, I waited for my chance to act differently.
“I don’t know how to build a robot” I answered with a smile and a GEM.
“What?” my son replied, still processing this very unusual response from his father that seems to know everything.
“Well, engineers build robots and I’m not an engineer, but I can tell you some of the things that we should learn so that maybe we can build a robot in the future. How does that sound?”
“That sounds good.” He replied. And with that we talk about what engineers learn and do and come up with some things we can practice in the meantime, like drawing robots and building them with Legos. He is way more encouraged that he is on the right path and the pressure is off of me.
Becoming a more encouraging parent does require practice. With these simple techniques and focused attention, you can connect with your children and encourage them even through life’s challenges, both big and small.
by Jeff Everage
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