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Encouraging a Child

Kids are smart.  They know when someone isn’t telling them the truth.

It’s hard on them when people do this…especially when parents do this.


This post is about encouraging a child, something parents both like and strive to do.  The problem occurs when well-meaning parents tell their child that they are fabulous, they are wonderful, they are good…and then don’t anchor the praise onto something measurable.  It’s worse when a parent tells a child they are good at something when both the parent and the child know that isn’t true.  In fact, there’s a growing body of research that says that kids can become immune to praise and that too much of it can convince kids of the opposite truth or cause the opposite action.  Check out an article titled, “The Effects of Praise” at parentingscience.com.  Psychology Today also has relevant articles you might find helpful.


So, my post on encouragement doesn’t sound very encouraging, does it?


With just a little adjustment, however, we can make encouraging words much more impactful, much more able to be absorbed by the child and much more….well…encouraging!


I am a big proponent of truth-telling and teaching children to tell the truth, because being truthful will make their lives both easier and happier.  Adults need to model this ethic for their children.  


In the area of encouragement we can achieve the goal of truth by asking ourselves some key questions before making statements of praise.

1. Is the statement I am about to make really true?

To say, “You are a superstar at swimming” to a child who is barely keeping his head above the waterline is not truthful.  However, “Way to go!  You made it all the way to the end of the pool!” works.  It is fact, and it is encouraging.

2. Does my statement help my child to continue striving for a goal?

When a child is charged with cleaning her room and you notice that all her dirty clothes are stuffed under the bed, you can stay encouraging by saying, “You did a great job making your bed and clearing the floor.  Way to go!”  Then you can set the expectation that the dirty clothes go in the hamper and help her do that before gold stars are given.  This way she can be proud of what she did, and will know what she can do next time to both please you and finish the job well.


At it’s most useful, encouragement is specific, incremental (“better” is more truthful than the word “best”) and based on effort.  Children need our encouragement.  That is one of the ways storieChild helps you help your child, by giving you a format for the loving communication all parent want to give their children.  If you offer it to them in a truthful and clear way, you’ll find them more cooperative and proud of their accomplishments.  Then you can be proud too.