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How parents discourage their children

Rupal Patel
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September 18, 2006

3-year old Rohan was playing with his blocks all by himself because his mom was too busy and he had no playmates around. After an hour, he began scattering his blocks all over the room. His mother walked in and tripped. "How many times do I have to tell you to play in one place? I don't know what to do with you," she yelled, as Rohan quietly listened.

Very often, parents tend not to notice when children behave well. When they do something wrong though, parents react immediately. What many do not understand is one of the main reasons for a child's misbehaviour is to get parental attention. Children crave their parents' attention, be it positive or negative.

Send out positive messages

Children need to hear positive messages from their caretakers in order to promote healthy self-esteem and confidence in themselves. Of course, no parent knowingly intends to lower a child's self esteem, but even the most well-intended criticism is still criticism. Parents may correct behaviour in the hope of wanting their child to perform better or behave in an appropriate manner. Instead, they discourage the child further, without realising it.

Critisim sends the following message to your child: You are not good enough and, in my eyes, you never will be.

Every situation gives us an equal opportunity to encourage or discourage our children. The first step is to realize when we are discouraging them, so we can avoid doing so. You discourage your child when you focus on what he or she has done wrong, criticise, humiliate, nag, be sarcastic, yell or punish the child. You encourage your child when you notice good behaviour and acknowledge it with words of encouragement. So, start focusing on strengths.

You discourage your child when you overprotect him and do things he is capable of doing on his own. You encourage your child when you allow him to do things on his own and help him become independent.

You discourage your child when you expect him to be perfect and accept nothing short of it. The child has to please you completely. You encourage your child when you allow him to progress at his own pace, keeping in mind his age and focusing on his efforts. 

You discourage your child when you have negative expectations every time he wants to attempt something. You encourage your child when you believe in his capabilities and appreciate his enthusiasm to try new things.

The difference between praise and encouragement

The dictionary defines praise as 'the act of expressing approval or admiration.' Encouragement is defined as 'to inspire with hope, courage and confidence.' The latter stimulates internal growth, helps children value themselves and increases their belief in their abilities. They realise that, although they may not be perfect yet, their efforts have been noticed.

Stop using words like 'good', 'very good', 'wow', 'wonderful' that sound nice but do nothing to motivate your child to do better. Instead, use a response like 'I really like the red colour you have used for the roof' or 'Your toys are all put away nicely' or 'You have worn your shoes all by yourself today.'

These responses say to your child -- 'You are important to me. I notice what you do. I have time for you.' Besides motivating the child to do better, they also help improve his or her self-esteem.

Be sincere

Honesty is important. So, look for things you truly like and appreciate. For example, let's say your child has been painting for an hour but has made a real mess of it. If, in such a situation, you were to say you liked the painting when you really didn't, your child would be able to see through you and gradually lose trust in your words. Instead, look for something you genuinely liked about the situation and say that. For example, if you liked the fact that the child has sat in one place for an hour without troubling you and made an effort to attempt painting, express that.

Don't bribe your child with encouragement

Some parents use encouragement to manipulate their children. Encouragement must be genuine and given to boost self-esteem, not to get something out of your child. Don't expect that just because you have encouraged your child, he or she should now cooperate with you. Both are separate issues; don't mix them.

Always keep in mind, the key is to look for strengths and focus more on good behaviour, so you get more of that.

-- The author is a child psychologist and parent counsellor.

Are you parent? How do you motivate your child? Post your tips and experiences

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