Sunday, June 6, 2010

Have You Had Your Encouragement Today?

Most children, teens, and adults that I know could use some encouragement. Somehow, as life gets busy, we can forget to tell the important people we care most about what we like about them. This post is an encouragement to begin noticing and acknowledging---in spoken and written words---the best that you see in your loved ones.

Encouragement comes from the french root "coeur", meaning heart. So when we encourage others, we give them heart, making them fortified for the challenges they may face that day. Life has all these automatic systems for discouraging us. We may try for a goal and fail at school or at work. We assume risks in trying to make friends or build a love relationship. Everyday that we get out there in the world affords the possibility of rejection or disappointment. We each need a key person in our inner circle who points out what we are doing that is working, and reflects our strengths back to us.

One researcher found a ratio of 10 negative comments that children get from parents and teachers daily compared to each positive comment. It is understandable why this happens. In a busy classroom or hectic family life, it is the things that annoy us that pop up first. Parents may notice a grade that has dropped, a backpack left out to trip over, or whining. Catching a child being responsible, helpful to others, or showing strong effort are all welcome, positive messages that your child longs to hear. It is also a wonderful tool to help encourage more of that positive behavior, by the spotlight given by adult attention for it. Most parents underestimate and underutilize the influence they have by going for the positive whenever possible. Can't you still remember the times a parent or a teacher recognized and acknowledged your contributions?

When you encourage, it works best to be specific about the action or behavior you noticed and what impact it had on you. For example, thanking a teenaged daughter for taking the initiative to unload the dishwasher without being asked, or commenting when an older child helps a younger one with a homework problem and remains patient. Letting a child or teen know the specifics is much more meaningful than a vague or general compliment (i.e. "you're a great kid"). Noone ever has the same potential to encourage as parents do, and it has touched me over my years talking with people in counseling about how much children long to have their parents' acknowledgement as being worthwhile, valuable, and wanted.

For over ten years I taught Active Parenting classes, and one of my favorite homework activities in the class was having each parent go home that week and write a letter of encouragement to each of their chidren and leave it on the child's pillow. The feedback the following week was always so special in class. Several children saved their notes on their bulletin boards for a long time afterwards. I remember one big, burly dad who teared up when he reported that his son didn't recall ever being told or written " I love you" from him before, and it meant so much.

Don't forget to encourage your partner, either. One book I read earlier thas year about couples and personality style differences gave a cute example. A husband, married many years, told his underencouraged wife, " I told you I loved you thirty years ago, if anything changes, I'll let you know". Adults can feel wildly underencouraged, too. Be a positive reflecting mirror for your partners' strengths. Research on happy couples shows that they often see the positive in each other and comment on it. These couples often encourage their partners' strengths and bring out their best self. Happy couples more often give their partner the benefit of the doubt and see their parners' goodness rather than focus on imperfections.

Encouraging those who work for or with you matters ,too. Studies show many employees care as much about being valued as they do being paid.

Children can be taught that everyone in the family needs encouragement, and they can participate, too. Parents can use feedback from their children on what they are doing that is valued or helpful.

Go forward and encourage a couple of people you care about today!

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