Positive parenting is something all moms and dads strive for, but it is easier said than done. On our Facebook Messenger, we continuously get messages from distraught parents who feel guilty because they quickly run out of patience and end up shouting at their kids.
Words do hold power, and encouraging phrases from parents can make a significant impact on children. “Positive parenting teaches discipline that builds your child’s self-esteem, while at the same time correcting their misbehavior,” says PositiveParenting.com.
According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and author of Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation, eight core abilities help kids grow up independent or become “pilots of their own lives.” These abilities, which she calls the compass advantage, consists of empathy, curiosity, resilience, self-awareness, integrity, resourcefulness, and creativity. Research suggests these are the drivers of school, career and life success. Nurturing these abilities will also help children’s self-discovery and growth.
If you want to start practicing positive parenting, it would be best to focus your words in these eight areas of development. “Imagine how much more powerful words of encouragement can be if what we said connected with a child’s sense of self-emerging identity,” says Price-Mitchell.
The difference between encouraging words vs. praise
It’s easy to think that positive words equate to praising your child, but some types of approval can be counterproductive, according to Price-Mitchell. She lists some guidelines to make sure encouraging words have a positive impact on your kids.
1. Be honest.
Kids can sense when you are praising them to make them feel better or to promote good behavior. If you are heaping praise to protect their feelings (say, after losing a game), it can make them feel worse. Instead of just saying, “You did a good job,” you can also say, “I know you feel bad that you lost. But I could see you worked hard and that’s important, too.”
2. Encourage effort, not talent.
Your child is smart, yes, but instead of pointing that fact out, it’s actually better to say, “You studied really hard for your test!” This cultivates a “growth mindset” where children learn that their success (i.e. getting good grades) is made possible by their efforts and not their ability. In case they fail, they won’t be as affected because they can improve their skills and work harder next time to get the results that they want.
3. Be specific.
Giving vague and generalized feedback is a misstep adults make when it comes to praising kids, according to Price-Mitchell. Phrases like “good job” or “you’re awesome” don’t explain to kids that making an effort led to doing a good job. It is always better to be specific and use words that kids can easily understand and associate with their actions. For example, you can say, “I appreciated the way you cooperated with your classmates” or “You analyzed the problem and came up with a great solution!”
4. Stop comparing.
You might not notice it, but whenever you compare kids to their peers, you are putting additional pressure on what they already feel. Saying things like, “You did so well today! Before you know it, you’ll be playing like [name of teammate],” can put them down instead of motivating them.
Preschoolers may not care now that some of their friends are more talented in some areas than them, but if, as parents, you constantly point it out, then it might have a reverse effect — instead of being inspired to work harder, they’ll think they’ll never be good enough.
“Encouragement that uses social comparison teaches children that the end goal is winning, not learning,” says Price-Mitchell.
5. Don’t use encouragement to control your kids.
When you say, “You did a great job on your test, but I know you can do even better,” your child starts to think that getting your approval depends on her performance. The encouragement that comes with conditions is harmful to your child’s positive development. It affects their self-worth and may lower their confidence. Say this instead: “You did a great job on your test! You worked hard on that, and you are doing great.”
6. Avoid overpraising.
If your child gets praised for even the smallest effort, that might send the wrong message. In his book Your Kids Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You, author Jim Taylor says, “If you keep telling your child she is already doing a fantastic job, you’re saying she no longer needs to push herself. But confidence comes from doing, from trying and failing and trying again — from practice.”
Give words of encouragement when kids least expect it and when their effort “is linked to an outcome that contributes to their positive growth and development,” says Price-Mitchell.
How do you encourage your kids? Tell us in the comments!