Encouraging our children

In my last post I discussed creating loving connections with our kids. The heart and soul of the post came down to the importance of engaging in child-led play, and having quality one-on-one time with each of our kids. So, if this is already happening in your family, you can now start to think more about ways to encourage positive behaviour.

Firstly, are rewards a good idea?

Unfortunately there is not a black and white answer for this question but I believe there is an answer.

I believe that there are risks involved in creating a climate of 'If you behave well, or succeed, you will get something for it, in addition to the personal satisfaction of doing well. Not only can it set kids up to be somewhat entitled, it can also rob them of reasons why they could feel good about it - personal success, connection with others, achieving etc. Also, there is the risk that the child could behave a certain way, not because they want to, but because they are going to get a reward.

The thing is that rewards, in the short term, can be effective for encouraging a change in behaviour but the risk is that kids can become materialistic, self-centred and ultimately motivated by external factors, rather than internal satisfaction. Do we really want our kids to grow up thinking, 'If I do this, then I'll get that.' ? I don't think so. So my stance on rewards currently is sure, implement sticker charts or a reward system to initiate a change in somewhat engrained patterns of behaviour but be careful not to carry it on for too long. It is more important to focus on all the positives in your child's behaviour, giving that your utmost attention and ignoring or if need be disciplining negative behaviours with appropriate consequences.

What about pocket money? I think age appropriate pocket money is a great idea. Then kids can learn to choose what they will spend their money on and parents can refrain from buying treats outside of special occasions and children can choose themselves what they do with their money.

What about paying them for so called chores around the house? Firstly, ditch the word chores and secondly don't pay them for their contributions to keeping the house and family running as smoothly as possible. What connotations does the word 'chores' conjure up in your mind? Drudgery? Hard work? Boring? Have to. Should. Don't want to. Exactly!

If we ask our children to help with the meal, or by laying the table, emptying the dishwasher or folding washing we are asking them to contribute. These activities are better described as family contributions, aren't they? Do WE get paid for these things? No. So why should our kids? The term 'family contributions' reminds children that the duties of running the house and making sure it operates smoothly belong to the whole family, since everyone enjoys its privileges. Through family contributions, each child will gain a sense of personal significance, as well as a feeling of belonging to a social group - namely, your family.

As parents, how do we communicate with our children? An indisputable fact is that the more we, as parents, use our calm voices, the more likely our children will do the same.

I think most people would agree that the closer we can get to a child's level and the calmer we can be, regardless of what we are communicating, the better results we are going to get. I think we would all agree that children don't really develop good healthy personalities through being intimidated. Unfortunately, however, most parents are capable of discouraging children. It can be so subtle that we don't even realise it but it does happen. We are human, afterall.

This is why it is always important to remind ourselves, when our children are misbehaving, that they are just trying to belong and to feel significant.

How do we discourage our children? We yell, we criticise, we humiliate and mock. We ridicule and use sarcasm. We compare our children to each other. We over-protect and do things for them that they can do for themselves. We label and expect perfection. And we talk about them in front of others.

But we also discourage in more subtle ways. We sometimes assume the negative: "Don't forget to say 'thank you' to the teacher." But on the flipside, and this might shake your worldview somewhat,, we praise our children. We praise them too much. We praise them when we don't even mean what we are saying. Really.

Praising is discouraging because it judges and because it creates an external locus of control. Bear with me. Praise is not terrible and in small doses it is called for. But what is more called for is ENCOURAGEMENT. Encouragement inspires with courage and spurs kids on. But what is the difference between praise and encouragement? Firstly, lets look at the different definitions. Praise expresses favourable judgment and encouragement inspires with courage. Praise focuses on the doer, whereas encouragement focuses on the deed. Praise focuses on the end product and encouragement focuses on effort and improvement. But most of all, praise creates an external locus of control, while encouragement creates an internal locus of control. Praise says "What an awesome painting!" Encouragement says "Which painting do you like best? You must feel very proud of yourself." Praise looks like "What a good job you did laying the table." Encouragement looks like "Thank you for setting the table because now I have extra time to cook dinner." It's subtle but it makes sense, right? It's like, do we want our children to grow up feeling proud of themselves, their contributions and their efforts or do we want them constantly seeking approval from others? That's the bottom line!

What about homework? How do we encourage a child's efforts and their enjoyment of learning without bringing shame, blame or pain to the party? In the pre-school HIPPY course I am learning, we are asked to encourage by the CCC approach. This acronym stands for Correct, Confirm or Complete. In other words if a child gets the answer wrong, just give them the right answer and carry on. Don't dwell on it. If they get it right, confirm it by repeating it back. If they get it half right, repeat it back and complete the answer for them. They learn through hearing the correct answers and not by feeling burdened by the mistake or by having to spend too much time on something they are not enjoying. This would obviously work quite well for pre-school kids but by the time kids are at school we want to encourage them to come up with the right answer themselves. We can do this by commenting on the hard work and effort they are putting in and by remarking on the correct answers. We can comment on improvements that have been made and asking questions that encourage them to figure out the answer on their own. Questions like "What did you learn from this question that you answered correctly that could help you answer this one?" It is important to celebrate mistakes - both our own and our kids. We learn from our mistakes and we learn more from them when we celebrate them as learning opportunities, and not failures.

So... folks.... hopefully you are practising your mind, body and soul time with your kids. What next? We need to train our kids to contribute in meaningful ways to increase their sense of belonging and significance. Rudolf Dreikurs says "Never do for a child what she can do for herself." Felix is helping me agree with this. He makes it easy by wanting to do everything for and by himself. Be my guest Felix. Pre-school kids can do so much! Felix dresses himself, makes his bed, packs his bag and brushes his teeth. He can find things in the grocery store which is great cause I hate grocery shopping. He can help fold towels and wash clothes. He can give me a back massage and water the plants. He can sweep the floor and carry in firewood. Jeez - I'm gonna be sitting on my culo soon, while he performs all the family contributions himself. I'll be smiling though because deep down I'll know that I am helping him increase his sense of belonging and significance. I won't praise him either. Instead I will encourage him by saying "Wow Felix, you must be really proud of yourself for all these things you can do by yourself, and by helping us have a warm, clean and cosy home. Now, how about that back massage?"

If you are interested in learning more, or you think you could benefit from counselling please be in touch.

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