The Magic of Encouragement!

As parents, we know that how we make requests makes the difference in how our children respond. And we can probably all remembered uplifting experiences of having someone believe that “You can do it!” Encouragement is simply putting courage into children, to enhance the motivation already present. Encouragement really can be like magic in helping to shift a child’s behavior.

  1. Expect Cooperation!
  • Adults set the expectation and kids gauge their response based on how much adults mean the request. If we don’t think they will cooperate, they won’t! If we expect them to cooperate, they will.
  • Often, if adults can mentally stand in their child’s shoes for a moment and see a request from the child’s point of view, a child’s possible resistance can be more clearly understood.
  1. Make your requests in the language kids understand
  • Give advance notice, a few minutes before the change, so kids can gear up. “Five more minutes before we will leave.”   “One more minute before it’s time.”
  • Create a bridge to the next event. “Be thinking if you want orange slices or juice in the car.”
  • Make your request in 5-7 words, with one request at a time.
  • Ask once, then stand up and get ready to follow-up your request if needed, without being threatening. “I asked once, and now I am here to help you.” If we ask repeatedly, kids learn to tune us out until we yell!
  • Give kids power with choices. “Do you want to walk, or jump to the car?”
  • Tell kids what they can do. Positive phrasing cuts straight to the heart of the request: “You can carry the truck or the diaper bag.”
  • Phrase impersonally. “The clock says it’s time.”
  • Keep your voice deliberately calm and slow to keep them calm and slow
  1. Give encouragement instead of praise
  • Specific, factual feedback is best. “Thanks so walking so carefully with the juice.”
  • Let them know you appreciate their help. If kids can say Tyrannosaurus Rex, they can understand big words like thoughtful, considerate and responsibility.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your child to contribute and be helpful. This makes them feel important and essential to tasks getting done. “I couldn’t have done this shopping without your help. Now we will have good food for dinner.”
  • Don’t over-praise or praise in front of others. This often embarrasses kids, and they will avoid being helpful to avoid being praised. Instead, a private acknowledgment is best.
  • Encourage kids to feel self-pride about their cooperation and helpful behaviors. “You played with your sister while I was on the phone. That really helped me. I bet you feel proud to be so helpful.”
  1. Shift from seeing the negative to seeing the positive behaviors in your child
  • What we notice will get repeated. If we notice cooperation, it will increase. If we notice and criticize un-helpful behaviors, they will increase too.
  • Ignore behaviors you don’t want whenever possible. Eye contact is a powerful reinforcer. Adults can walk away from negative behaviors.
  1. Involve children in changing their own inappropriate behaviors.
  • Kids need to know how their behaviors affect others. They want and need to know the rules of appropriate behaviors.
  • Dialogues and Action Plans will help kids take responsibility for shifting their own behaviors with your help and feedback.
  • Natural consequences are great immediate feedback for younger children.
  • Logical consequences may be structured when natural consequences are readily available. Example: Taking a child to the busiest street in town to hear the noise of the cars and trucks, feel the street shaking, and talking about staying on the sidewalk are more helpful than spanking a child that runs into the street. Then, if the child does go into the street after this concrete explanation, they have lost the privilege to stay outside today, but can try again tomorrow.
  1. Be firm with your requests!
  • Children believe us if we believe the request is important and appropriate.
  • Be prepared for children to ask why. If we can’t answer why, is the request we’ve made really necessary? If it is, we should be able to say why!
  • Expect some testing! It is children’s job to wonder if we really mean it. They will test to see how much we really do mean it!
  • Just because they don’t like the limit or request does not mean adults have to change it! “I know you don’t want to take a nap, and it’s time.”
  1. Celebrate when kids have improved their behavior!
  • Sometime adults are reluctant to remind kids of how they used to behave, for fear the negative behaviors will return! Instead, remind children how well they changed their own behaviors so they will have a perspective on how well they are growing up.