Awhile ago I blogged about the benefits of using words of encouragement over words of praise. Encouragement offers children support for positive behavior and motivates them to continue that wanted behavior. Oftentimes, behavior problems stem from children feeling discouraged and disheartened. The good news is that we can start today to focus on using encouraging words as often as possible!
While I work diligently on making sure my children’s cup is full of these uplifting words, I wanted to go one step further. I keep an “encouragement board” going in the corner of my children’s giant dry-erase board. I have written, “My kids are…” and then I follow it up with a word or words that inspire the kind of behavior I want to motivate. I change out the word every other day or so, plenty of time for them to notice it. I want them to know that I am always grateful for them, appreciate their efforts, and happy to celebrate their achievements with an eye toward keeping them motivated.
Encouragement goes such a long way toward positive behavior in children. By filling their little cups with heaps of support and inspiration, they feel secure about their actions and secure in your love and attention, so their behavior mirrors that positive reinforcement. Anytime we start to have problems or we start to have a series of days where we are backsliding, it is usually because I haven’t been as on top of offering them encouragement. I just forgive myself and promise to redouble my motivating efforts the next day, and I can start with my encouragement board! You can easily find encouraging words or phrases online if you need help getting started, but remember, encouragement is not the same as praise. Build a vocabulary of encouraging words and phrases and practice them everyday!
Did you know?? There is a big difference between praise (good job!) and encouragement (I really like the progress I’m seeing!). Say those phrases to yourself a few times. One of them really makes you feel a lot more satisfied and warm inside, right?! It turns out that there is a reason for it.
I stumbled upon my first article online about using encouragement over praise a few years ago, right before I made the smart switch to positive parenting. I liked what I read, but I kept forgetting to employ it consistently. I nearly forgot about it all together until I started reading my positive parenting books and made a conscious effort to really go for it. There are several articles to read about why to use encouragement over praise — and you should read them — but what I want to write about is how I got the ideas to stick the second time and the results that I noticed in my kids.
Before I dive in, I want to tell you that the book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time by Amy McCready, really helped me to get going on the encouragement front. This book is fantastic because she lists what phrases to use instead of the generic, “good job.” First off, there is nothing wrong with the occasional praise. I use it sparingly too. But that added emphasis on the action makes all of the difference. A quick Google search will help you find some encouragement phrases, too. Again, I definitely recommend reading the articles that explain why encouragement works. Here is how I implemented the strategy and got it to stick:
Write down encouraging phrases or starts of phrases on a piece of paper and leave it in a place you can easily glance at them. Like most moms, I spend most of my time in the kitchen/dining area when my kids are home. I’m cleaning up, fetching snacks, helping with homework, you name it! I spend the bulk of my afternoons to early evenings in that one spot in my house. So, I have my piece of paper tucked near the back corner of my counter and wall, where I can easily see it to quickly get ideas, but it’s out of the way so the kids don’t really notice it. That was the biggest help for me.
Practice those encouraging phrases with yourself, spouse, and friends. Practice makes perfect, right? Yep, I found that the more I used the phrases, the easier it got to make the switch. Plus, encouraging words can always brighten someone’s day, including your own day. So, get practicing right away and watch those faces light up!
Read, re-read, and refresh yourself often. Remember how I read that online article about encouragement, and it didn’t really stick that first time? Out of sight, out of mind, for sure. So, if it helps to keep your book handy or to print out or bookmark your article(s), do it to keep those ideas fresh in your mind. I keep my books, which are covered in post-it notes and tabs marking important pages, on my dresser in my bedroom, and that way I can just pull them out and get right to whatever page I need right away.
When I consistently employ encouragement-over-praise, I do see an improvement in my children’s behavior. I see that they are more willing to finish the task. I see the glow on their faces when they know how proud I am of them and how proud they are of themselves — they feel accomplished and more positive about themselves! I also notice a difference in how they respond to me. With a quick shot of praise, maybe I get a “thanks” sometimes, but with encouraging words, I’ve got their full attention. Their little antennas perk-up (so to speak) because they want to hear what it is that I like seeing in what they’ve done. Finally, when they know exactly what they’ve done that was so good, they are more apt to repeat it. They are motivated!
I’m not saying that I am perfect at utilizing encouragement every single time. Sometimes life moves so fast that a quick “good job” or “well done” is all that you can get in. And that’s okay, too! Sometimes we even relapse. I can tell you from experience that you will notice a difference in that direction, too, as you’ll have more breakdowns in behavior and motivation. But, every time I go back to being more consistent about encouragement, things always seem to improve, even if it’s by a little bit. Hey, that every bit is always worth it! Take note on their reaction as you begin to implement the change to encouragement. That is usually motivation enough to keep me going!