Encourage, don’t just praise: Navigating common parenting pitfalls | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Encourage, don’t just praise: Navigating common parenting pitfalls
Encourage, don’t just praise: <br>Navigating common parenting pitfalls

S potted this ultra-relatable text exchange on my feed: Mom 1: “I’ve had it. I’m selling my kid on eBay.” Mom 2: “Don’t be silly, you made him. Sell him on Etsy.”

Despite all our best intentions, there are just moments when we parents wonder where we went wrong in raising our children, when our expectations don’t match our reality.

At the 2021 Positive Parenting Summit online, Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, said that modern parents have a praise problem. She noted that challenging kids usually get corrective feedback, so all day, the child’s self-perception is negative. To address this, she advised aiming for 80 to 85 percent neutral and positive communication. However, research shows that generic praise like “you’re terrific, smart, etc.” undermines the results we try to achieve. So, we should focus on encouragement by celebrating their effort, hard work and improvement.

While praise phrases like “Good job!” won’t ruin kids, we can do so much better. “What’s the specific behavior or attitude that contributed to that result? Stick-to-it-iveness. Taking a lot of care, seeking out help. Practicing in the backyard, attitude, whatever came before it,” said McCready.

Zero in on something they can replicate in various settings, such as in sports, math or a job. Instead of having “You are awesome!” on autopilot, McCready suggested saying, “You must be so proud of how you put together this amazing project.” This small change allows kids to own how hard they’ve worked on the task. It reinforces that the child doesn’t have to rely on the parent’s affirmation; they get it from within.

“Praise fosters external motivation while encouragement fosters internal motivation. Kids could get dependent on praise and want to get it from someone else, like a boyfriend or other external reinforcement. They shouldn’t need other people to tell them how awesome they are; they should get it from themselves,” McCready said.

Handling disappointments

Psychologist Carol Dweck famously exposed the problem of a fixed mindset. She explained that when we tell children they’re smart, we leave them no room for the idea that there’s something they can do even better. It doesn’t take into account the work put into a task, selecting practice over playtime.

While there’s nothing wrong with showing excitement over a fantastic score, McCready advised stacking it with something the child can do again in other parts of their life. For instance, noting that they enjoy music because it’s just as important to promote fun.

Another common parenting pitfall is teaching our kids to handle disappointments with empathy while maintaining our boundaries. If they get a failing grade, McCready said to first empathize that they feel horrible about flunking after putting in the work. Instead of saying that they’re smart and will do better next time, she suggested saying, “You know what, if you’re not happy with that grade, what can you do differently next time?” or “What have you learned about the teacher’s testing style that can help you prepare differently next time?”

McCready said that this approach fosters resilience and internal motivation because while we all face setbacks, we can bounce back from them. It also emphasizes that the child is in control of their outcome, that they are not dependent on external factors, is not a victim, and things were not done to them.

She also doesn’t approve of sticker charts, paying for chores (call them family contributions instead), or external prizes because these tactics communicate a lack of confidence in the child that they won’t do something without a bribe or a “gimme.” Rewards lose their luster and send the wrong message.

“A sticker, a coin, a candy bar, a trip somewhere, a toy, when does it end? Parents have to continually motivate by using external things. The more we use external rewards, the more the internal motivation diminishes,” said McCready.

Instead, she recommended telling our kids that we know doing a certain chore may suck but that it makes such a difference for us when they do the task. She said that appreciation feels so good to kids and that parents will get so much more mileage out of it than from a tangible reward.

Acknowledging bad experienceYet another scenario may be when parents are persuaded to bend a family rule. For example, if the child suggests eating out to celebrate a win but you don’t do weeknights out to protect everyone’s sleep schedule. McCready advised agreeing to go out on the weekend instead and to follow up with how they must be so proud of themselves. Ask for more details about what happened: why they think they were selected, what they did to prepare, and what contributed to their success.

She cautioned that rewarding for sorrow is no good either. Media can prompt us to equate feeling bad with “deserving dessert.” Doing this normalizes indulging in food to soothe our feelings; later, it may be alcohol, and so on. McCready suggested modeling a better way to deal with disappointment with empathy, by agreeing that yes, it sucks. Live in it, feel the heartache, then move on. From this, kids learn that they can get through anything.

While mom kissed boo-boos away when they were little, older kids need to realize that mom is not “supposed to” make them feel better. At the moment, the child needs a hug, someone to get them and agree about what sucks. But out of the moment, the load must be put back on their shoulders. Ask: if you could do it over, what would you do differently? Acknowledge their bad experience, then help them connect the dots to what happened before it and how they might learn from it to do better in the future.

The reality is that they may do a great job next time, but still not meet their goal. “But what do we value? Is it the prize? Or is it how much earlier she started researching and learning more? She can still feel success even if she doesn’t make it,” reminded McCready.

She also advised being conscious of perception shifting. If you have a child who constantly asks for affirmation, shoot back that it’s not about what you think: “What do you think? How do you feel about that?”

The bestselling author, “former yeller,” and Certified Positive Discipline Instructor said, “Our children are entitled to our time, attention, and intention. Spend 10 minutes daily with each kid, one-on-one, with your undivided time and attention, doing something they love. It will go so far in unentitling your kids. When you give them what they are truly entitled to, so much of the nonsense falls away.”

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