The art of praise—what is known as positive reinforcement in the current psychological jargon—is an essential art for a parent or teacher to master... The teenagers who sit in my office tell me again and again, “My dad gets all over my case when I mess up at school, but when I bring home a good grade he acts as if it’s nothing—that I’m finally doing what I should have been doing all along.” Stop and think. How long has it been since you took a full 60 seconds to talk to your son or daughter about some fine thing they’ve just done? —Alan Loy McGinnis
A nurse ushered me into my grandma’s room. Lying in the hospital bed, she looked so small. Her eyes were closed. I sat down quietly.
I was on my way to seminary and full of self-doubt. I had just given up a full scholarship to medical school, and everyone thought I was making a mistake. I desperately wanted Grandma’s advice, but the nurse had warned me that she didn’t have much strength left. After half an hour, Grandma hadn’t stirred, so I just started talking. Suddenly she woke up, asking, “Danny, is that you?”
She told me how her faith had guided her all her life. After a few minutes, a great peace settled around us. I kissed Grandma and turned to leave, but then I heard her whisper some parting words. I leaned over to listen. “I believe in you,” she said.
Grandma died that night, but in more than 20 years of work as a Christian psychologist, I have passed on her words many times. Four simple words can make a lifetime of difference.
The week before my father died, when I was a senior in college, he took me aside and showed me a box of clippings of newspaper and magazine articles he had written and hidden away. When I asked in surprise why he hadn’t shown me these before, he replied, “Your mother discouraged me from writing because I don’t have a college education, so I’ve done it in secret and she doesn’t know.”
Mother had not meant to be a discourager, but she had stated what seemed an obvious fact to her: If you’re not educated, you shouldn’t write.
My father had not let this attitude depress him, but he had “hidden his light under a bushel.” He told me he had written an article for the
Advance magazine but it had not been published. “I guess I reached for something a little too big this time,” he shared. How touched I was that he had told me about his interest in writing and the article he had submitted to the Advance magazine! Within days my father dropped dead in a Boston subway station, and on the day of the funeral the new issue of Advance arrived—with his article published in it. Had he not confided in me, I would never have opened that issue.
I have the framed article with my father’s picture hanging in my study, and each time I glance at it I wonder what that man might have become as a writer if only someone had believed in him.
We live in a discouraging world full of people who put us down. What bright lights we can be when we say the simple words, “I have confidence in you!”
By Silvana Clark, adapted excerpts
Sit by any playground and observe the children running, jumping, and climbing over and under the equipment. It’s not hard to notice the daredevils who soar headfirst down the slide and then leap from the hanging bars to begin twirling feverishly on the tire swing. These kids know no fear! Then there are the cautious playground participants. They slowly walk across the shaky wooden bridge. It takes them time to get the courage to slide down the fireman’s pole. What makes the difference? Could it be self-confidence?
We all want our kids to eagerly participate in school, join other kids in the playgroup, or volunteer to play on the soccer team. Yet often—as well meaning as we are—parents undermine their children’s ability to develop selfconfidence. If a preschooler runs into a room carrying a glass of water, what’s the first thing most parents say? You’ll usually hear, “Be careful, you might spill that!” instead of “It’s a good idea to walk when carrying a glass of water.”
Why encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling Susie she’ll spill the water? Let’s revisit the playground. Listen carefully and you’re bound to hear some mother yelling, “Jordan, stay close by where I can see you, you might get hurt!” Yet that’s no way to build a child’s confidence! When our daughter was three, my husband found her trying to climb an apple tree in the backyard. Rather than tell her she was going to fall, he spent time showing her how to select branches for holding and standing. They climbed another ten feet, much to Sondra’s delight. The rule is she can climb trees when an adult is nearby—which has resulted in numerous father-daughter, tree-climbing expeditions.
Here are some ways that you can help young children develop confidence in themselves and their abilities.
Encourage positive risk taking
Self-confident children have the inner fortitude to try new things, even if it means a possibility of failure. Cheer on your toddler as he or she tries new skills. As a family, read a book on a topic new to all of you. Take a walk on some unfamiliar trails, just for the adventure of seeing where you’ll end up.
When my daughter was younger and assigned to bring something for Show and Tell, I encouraged risk taking. Instead of having her share the latest Barbie doll, I’d give her a theme such as “Take something you made yourself.” (We baked bread, which she
shared with the class.) “Take something that grows in the ground.” (She picked dandelions and showed their long root systems.) The teacher always commented positively about Sondra’s unique choice of Show and Tell items. In a small way, she learned she’d get positive reinforcement by doing things a bit different from the ordinary.
Let children make choices
Yes, you want your toddler daughter to go out wearing the cute red plaid skirt with the matching red sweater. She, of course, wants to wear the purple striped pants with her yellow flowered turtleneck. Why not let her?
A large part of self-confidence is the feeling that it’s great to reach out and do something out of the ordinary. All too often as parents, we say things such as, “But all the other kids have lunch boxes. Why do you want your lunch in a bag?” Give children the opportunity to make choices as long as safety and family values are taken into account.
Keep praise in perspective
There’s a tendency for parents to praise every action their child makes. There’s no need to clap and cheer if your youngster puts his napkin on his lap at dinner; that’s expected behavior. Some parents gush over every scribble their toddler makes as if each drawing belongs in a museum.
As a preschool teacher, I often saw parents excessively praise children for minor
accomplishments; yet positive feedback is effective when it is realistic. When children learn they can do almost anything and parents automatically give a standing ovation, the praise loses its meaning.
As a parent, you can indeed offer support and encouragement to your child. But you can go even a step further and allow her to explore her own abilities and revel in her own accomplishments. These tips for encouraging self-confidence can breathe new spirit into your child, instilling confidence that will last a lifetime.
Courtesy of Motivated! magazine. Used with permission. Photo by Mitch via Flickr.
On a flight I took some months ago, there was a little girl sitting in the catty-cornered seat from me. She had a beautiful new coloring book that her mother had obviously brought especially for the flight. Occupying the same row was another girl about the same age whose father was seated behind her. This girl had no coloring book, and in fact, didn’t seem to have anything to occupy her.
The girl with the coloring book was soon busily coloring with her crayons spread out on the tray table, and the other girl was looking longingly at them. I felt bad for the girl who had none, so I prayed that the first child would feel moved to tear out a page from her nice coloring book and share it. Sure enough, after a while I saw that she had indeed torn a page out and had given it to her seatmate and was sharing her crayons with her.
I leaned forward across the aisle and told the girl that sharing her coloring book was such a nice thing to do. She brightened up and was obviously pleased that someone had noticed. I don’t know how far that little exchange will go, but I would like to think that the next time she has to make a choice whether to share something or not, she will be reminded of the woman who was proud of her because she made the right decision.
Here’s a question we can ask ourselves: What can I say to my children that will help them in some way?—Lift their spirits, brighten their day, and make them feel good about themselves, appreciated, valued and, worthwhile?
Even brief encounters with our children lend themselves to “a word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11), something that will give them faith in themselves.
Adapted from article originally published in Activated magazine.
By Joyce Suttin
During the spring of my junior year in high school, some girls suggested we practice for the junior-senior basketball game, and I thought it might be fun, so I tagged along. I did poorly in practice, more focused on my friends than on the game; but despite getting on the nerves of some of the more competitive players, I decided that I would go through with what was going to be my one and only basketball game.
Throughout the match, the seniors consistently held the lead, while my teammates were struggling. I had passed the ball a couple of times like a hot potato, happy to get it out of my hands as quickly as possible. Until…
We were two points behind with seconds left in the game when one of my friends managed to intercept the ball. She tossed it as far as she could, and I realized with dismay that it was coming straight at me. I caught it easily, but now what? None of my teammates were near the basket.
I must have appeared frozen in time, uncertain of what to do, when I saw the face of Stan, one of the athletic boys in my class, sitting in the front row in the crowd. He called out, “Just shoot the ball! You can do it!”
I remember looking at the basket from my place at half court, taking aim, and shooting with all my might. What happened next is somewhat hazy. Somehow the ball miraculously swooshed into the basket at the last second, and we won the game!
As everyone crowded around me during my moment of glory, my eyes searched the crowd for Stan. He finally came up to congratulate me, and I said, “Thanks, Stan, for showing confidence in me when I needed it. You were the one who thought I could do it, and I did.”
We all need someone who spurs us on when the faces in the crowd are a blur, when the voices seem unintelligible, and our steps falter—someone like Stan to tell us to go for it when we are hesitant and unsure, to boost our confidence to try the impossible, to say “I know you can do it!”
Your children need to see that you want them to achieve, and that you believe that they can achieve. In their times of despair or heartbreak, they need you to show them that they can pick up the broken pieces and start again. They need to know that no matter how hard they may have fallen, or how many times they may have failed, they can stand up again. They need to know that they are winners, they are champions, and that you believe in them.
There are many examples in history of people who did great things, became someone great, discovered something unknown, invented something ingenious, wrote something creative, sang something beautiful, inspired others, or helped to make the world a better place through their efforts—in great part due to the faith that someone had in them.
The strength of faith and the belief that others had in them helped many of these great people to overcome what seemed to be impossible odds, opposition, danger, or difficulty. They might have ended up unheard of by the rest of the world if they hadn't been inspired to achieve, and as a result of that, pushed themselves to become more than they were.
Many of these great men and women were thought to have had little or no potential to begin with. There have been cases of great teachers, scientists, and inventors who were thought to be below average intellectually as children. Some great athletes have been told that they were too sick, handicapped, or weak to qualify for even the first level of competition. There have been cases of great writers and speakers who could hardly articulate themselves when they first started. World-famous dancers, singers, and actors can remember being turned down at their first auditions due to "not having enough talent."
There are many who failed and made countless mistakes, who showed promise and potential, but were disappointed over and over again—until finally, through the strength to persevere that was ignited in part by those who believed in them, they succeeded.
Courtesy of Activated magazine and www.anchor.tfionline.com.
God has given me 12 beautiful children—eight girls and four boys. When they were younger, I was so busy with their care; I barely had time to catch my breath. But now with all my children almost grown (the youngest is 14), I rely so much on their support and help. I spent one morning reflecting on this and feeling such gratitude for my children, and then I received a call from my third eldest. I began to relay my thankful thoughts to her when she said, “Mom, you need to tell your children these things. It would make them so happy to hear how much they mean to you.” I had just been thinking the same, and I agreed.
My 12 children have—over the last 34 years—grown up in an instant. That is contradictory but true. And I am now realizing again and again what treasures my children are to me. All I can say is Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.
I am thankful for my children, who have taught me so many of life’s important lessons.
I am thankful for the children I still have with me.
I am thankful for my children who have spread their wings and are no longer under my roof.
I am thankful for the times they remember to call.
I am thankful for how they still call me when something is troubling them.
I am thankful for my grown children who came to visit me when I was hospitalized.
I am thankful for how my children cried when I fell sick.
I am thankful for the times when my children have made me laugh when I’ve needed encouragement.
I am thankful for how not a birthday passes without one of my daughters baking a cake and serving a lovely birthday meal.
I am thankful for how my children call me when my birthday nears, asking what they should get me as a present.
I am thankful for the family photo album books that my eldest daughter prints and sends me at the end of every year.
I am thankful for how my children cause me to appreciate a variety of personality traits and characteristics.
I am thankful for the grandchildren who call me grandmother, and for my children who take care of my grandchildren so well.
I am thankful for how my children listen when I am going through a trying time.
I want to say to each of my children, “You are needed. I am thankful for you. You are wonderful.”
I think there is nothing more fortunate than to feel that you are needed. But unless someone puts this into words, you might never know the place you fill in another’s life. So I decided to take a few moments to express my thankfulness for my children. And as I was doing so, my thoughts gradually turned to Jesus—the one most deserving of thanks.
I wondered if I thank Him enough. My praises may not have been as abundant of late, and I wondered if that saddened Him. Of everything in my life, I am most thankful for Him. Because of Him I am able to love others. Because of the love He has given me, I desire to love others in the same way.
I have heard it said that praise brings down God’s power, and I believe this to be true. And when one is tired, it is even more important to praise. The fact is, as I sat down to write this, I was feeling rather tired. But after I began to praise, I was strengthened. I started off writing about thankfulness, so naturally I can only end in praise.
Article © The Family International. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Each of us is “shy” in some instances and “outgoing” in others; this is normal. If you expect your child to be “shy” (or “withdrawn”) you will be reinforcing this behavior and making it happen more often. Focus on and praise your child’s strengths.
Self-esteem is a powerful force which will impact your child’s success and happiness throughout his or her life. More than any other factor, self-esteem or self-image influences our attitudes about what we can or cannot do, how we cope with problems, and how we get along with others.
Self-esteem is a blend of the way we feel about and “see” ourselves, as well as the way we believe others see us. A strong self-image helps a child feel both lovable and capable. A child’s self-esteem is strongest when parents nurture both love ability and capability.
Feeling lovable means that the child feels loved and worthwhile just because he or she exists in this world, not because of something he or she can do. You help a child feel lovable by praising things that are intrinsic or unique to your child’s personality, like his sense of humor, friendliness, persistence, or creativity.
Feeling capable means that the child feels strong and competent, and proud of his or her ability to do or achieve things. Feeling capable has to do with life skills—things like being able to wash and dress oneself, help with household chores, get ready for bed independently, and know the names of colors. Here are a few points to remember:
§ As an adult, you know that every person is unique and special; your child does not know this. Teach him how and why he is unique.
§ Praise is only valuable when it is genuine and descriptive. Use meaningful praise that describes what you notice, like, or approve.
§ When children are allowed to do as many things for themselves as possible, they feel proud and competent.
New parents take one long, deep look into the eyes of their baby and vow to never hurt or disappoint the child. Why then do parents nag, belittle, and get impatient?
Familiarity often breeds contempt. As time passes, we become familiar with the people we are closest to, and we stop valuing and treating them like we should. The wear and tear of daily living takes its toll, and the bright newness of once-treasured relationships begins to fade. Up close and personal, everyone’s flaws and wrinkles begin to show. Routines become ruts. Our once-prized blessings begin to weigh on us.
Sound familiar? Then it’s time to reverse the trend. That will take a conscious effort and may not be easy, especially if the problem has been going on for some time, but it can be done. Count your blessings. The quickest and surest way to return the shine to any tarnished relationship is to polish your half. Get busy being the person you set out to be at the start, and the other party will almost certainly follow suit without direct prompting.
Motivators, therapists, and child psychologists have discovered that praise makes us stretch ourselves. In the warm glow of knowing we have pleased another, we try harder to please. Hearing that we have done well, we want to do better. —Shannon Shayler
Praise is to children what water is to flowers. Pour it on and watch them grow. —Shannon Shayler
Everyone has good qualities. Find specific things about your children that you can sincerely compliment them on, and be generous with your praise. If you can’t find anything right off, look deeper. The harder it is to find that special “gold,” the greater the reward is likely to be for both of you when you do. If you can find even a threadlike vein and shine a little love on it in the form of praise, it will lead you straight to the mother lode. They’ll open up to you, and you’ll discover lots of wonderful things about them. —Shannon Shayler
The applause of a single human being is of great consequence. —Samuel Johnson
To love others just as they are is the ultimate compliment. —Shannon Shayler
The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved—loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves. —Victor Hugo
Extracted from the book "Love's Many Faces", © Aurora Productions.
* Never lose faith in your children! If you can’t determine what’s right or wrong when a child claims innocence in some situation, and there’s no way to prove otherwise, it is almost always the wisest thing to let it pass, rather than risk punishing or judging unjustly for something. Try taking your child’s word for it!—such love will prove your faith in them and will inspire them not to disappoint your trust. Showing a child that you trust and believe in him shows him that you love him.
* Try putting yourself in your child’s place as much as possible. This will give you a much better understanding of him. Make it a habit to try to see things through their eyes and understanding. Ask yourself, “what if this were I? How would I want to be treated in this situation if I were in his shoes?—if I were only 5 years old and were the one being laughed at by the adults, how would I feel?” What may seem cute or funny to us, may be very embarrassing and humiliating to a child. Most of us know what it’s like to be embarrassed, hurt or slighted by others. Realizing that such unpleasant experiences can be much more traumatic and painful to a small inexperienced child should cause us to do our best to spare them from such incidents. By putting yourself in as close a situation as you can think of to your child’s situation, imagining how you would feel, you will gain a much better understanding of him and his feelings.
* Praise and encouragement are one of the most important parts of child training. Be generous with praise and appreciate your child’s good intentions and strong points. For example, if your son makes a failing grade on his school work, you can still find something to commend him for, his neat handwriting, perhaps. There’s always some good to be praised and appreciated. All children thrive on praise. It’s more important to praise a child for his good deeds and his good behavior than it is to scold him for his bad behavior. Try to always accentuate the positive!
Of course, it’s important when giving praise and appreciation to remain honest and sincere, and it must relate to him or her. For example, you may consider your pre-teen daughter to be beautiful, but if she perhaps doesn’t compare favorably to many others her age, in spite of your opinion and feeling on the matter, she could think that you are being insincere or falsely flattering if you are constantly telling her how beautiful she is. So why not commend her in some other positive area in which she excels and shines: her eloquence of speech or her good grades or her loving, sweet character and spirit.
Be outspoken with praise for your children. Just about everyone loves kids, but it’s extremely important that the children know this by hearing you say it and seeing you show it.
All these suggestions and pointers are ways to put love into action! Love is not “real” or practically applied without a living example by you and me, today’s parents who are molding the future! The world of tomorrow is what the mothers and fathers of today make it, according to the way we raise our children!
Excerpted from writings by D.B. Berg. © The Family International. Used with permission.
Charles and Carla Coonradt tell the story of an immense, 19,000-pound whale, Shama, that is taught in Sea World, Florida, to jump 22 feet out of the water and perform tricks. How do you suppose they teach the whale to do that?
A typical parenting approach would be to mount a rope at 22 feet high out of the water, and encourage the whale to sail over it. “Jump, whale!” Maybe get a bucket of fish up there, reward the whale when it does the right thing. Set goals! Aim high! And you and I know the whale would stay right where it was.
The Coonradts say, “So how do the trainers at Sea World do it? Their number-one priority is to reinforce the behavior that they want repeated—in this case, to get a whale or porpoise to go over the rope. They influence the environment every way they can so that it supports the principle of making sure that the whale can’t fail. They start with the rope below the surface of the water, in a position where the whale can’t help but do what’s expected of it. Every time the whale goes over the rope, it gets positive reinforcement. It gets fed fish, patted, played with, and most important, it gets that reinforcement.
“But what happens when the whale goes under the rope? Nothing—no electric shock, no constructive criticism, no developmental feedback, and no warnings in the personnel file. Whales are taught that their negative behavior will not be acknowledged.
Positive reinforcement is the cornerstone of that simple principle that produces such spectacular results. And as the whale begins to go over the rope more often than under, the trainers begin to raise the rope. It must be raised slowly enough so that the whale doesn’t starve, either physically or emotionally.
“The simple lesson to be learned from the whale trainers is to over-celebrate. Make a big deal out of the good and little stuff that we want consistently. Secondly, under-criticize. Children know when they screw up. What they need is help. If we under-criticize, punish and discipline less than is expected, children will not forget the event and usually will not repeat it.”
We need to make it difficult for children to fail, so there can be less criticism and more celebrations.
Words for Loved Ones