When it comes to teaching your child skills, remember to keep their eyes on the prize. This means reminding your child of what they enjoy doing and what privileges they’ll earn once their responsibilities have been met. Another part of this technique is looking for ways your child is improving or making an effort and commenting on that. When you can specifically state, “I saw you do this,” or “I heard you talking to your sister nicely…good job,” it shows you’re paying attention.
Let’s face it, learning new skills and then putting them into practice is difficult and it’s hard work. Think about that for a second—the goals that we define for our children carry with them an expectation to perform day in and day out. When we want our child to do well in school, we don’t mean “do your work today and tomorrow you’re off the hook.” The pressure of life’s demands is constant and I think it’s effective to highlight for our kids what they have to look forward to — and what they’re succeeding in doing well.
I remember a high school teacher telling me that if I was planning on going to college, I needed to be “on” everyday. He basically was saying that if I wasn’t prepared to perform 100% everyday, then maybe I wasn’t prepared for college. I think back on this and remember feeling discouraged by his words; I’d classify it as poor coaching on the teacher’s part, because rather than motivating me, his words actually made me feel discouraged — after all, what teenager is “on” every single day? I think it would have better if he had also kept my eyes on the prize by mentioning what was in it for me if I worked harder at performing every day, and what skills were necessary to make that happen. What I would suggest to a parent or teacher in this situation is to explore what’s going on for the child — and let them know why it’s in their best interests to succeed. So you could say, “You told me you wanted to be a computer animation artist. That means you really have to pay attention in math class if you want to get what you want.”
I think you also need to identify what the stumbling block is in order to help your child solve the problem differently; this will help you figure out what kind of limits you can set to help your child approach the problem differently. Kids are very much about the here and now and lack the ability to see the big picture or plan for the future. They need someone to urge them on, keep them focused and motivated to continue working towards the goal. Don’t use your own failure or child’s failure as a reason to give up on the goal: there’s absolutely no problem solving involved with that. Think of it this way: failure is an opportunity to take a look at what’s working and what’s not.
For parents, even though you grow up and your skills and ability to plan improves (I mean, a lot of us can fulfill our obligations on auto-pilot) encouragement can take your child a long way. Being a good coach is simply one of the many skills a parent can call on. For some of us, it may be more natural to focus on the problem or what’s not working, so we have to work a little harder to develop that inner coach!
When it comes to being a parent, what kind of encouragement has proven to be the most inspiring to you? Have you noticed your child responding well to encouragement — and what did you say to motivate them?