Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ways to Encourage Your Young Child: What to Say

Although my daughter is only 17 months, I recently attended a seminar called STEP: The Systematic Training for Effective Parenting.  I believe that it's never too early to start consciously using a language that promotes mutual respect and positive relationships.  My wish for my daughter is that she will one day look in the mirror and see a competent, compassionate, confident woman.   I want so much for her, but above all, I want her to know that who she is will always be enough.  Below are some phrases I've used (adapted from STEP: Parenting Young Children), guaranteed to encourage your child, so that she can feel good about herself.  

  • "I can see you're working hard on that puzzle!"
  • "You look like you're having lots of fun!"
  • "Thank you for your help turning on the light."
  • "You're getting better at eating with spoon."
  • "I need your help putting the toys away."
  • "You seem to like taking a bath."
  • "Wow!  You can climb up the stairs all by yourself."
  • "You remembered to keep your bib on."  
  • "Thank you for bringing me the toilet paper.  That helped me a lot." (No joke!)  
So what's the big deal?  What strikes me about this language is a conscious shift from "I/me" to "you."  It's all about your child, her efforts, feelings, and self-esteem. The STEP philosophy makes an important distinction between encouragement and praise, and this resonated with me.  Rather than saying "I'm so proud of you," which might actually be damaging if your child is a perfectionist, you might say, "You seem so proud of your artwork!"  In the latter example, children don't grow-up believing that they need to live up to someone else's expectations.  They learn to live up to their own.  Powerful stuff, right?  I am not saying that all praise is negative, but I love the idea of using a language that encourages children, honoring their strengths and acknowledging their struggles.  And just like unconditional love, it doesn't need to be earned.  

(For more information, visit the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting)