Encouragement: The Most Important Life Skill

Clients typically ask if there are small changes that they can make that can create an immediate difference in the relationships with their spouses, children, or co-workers. Professionally, I believe that there are three life skills that are inherent in making life more meaningful. The number one life skill that will immediately make a change in your relationships is the art of encouragement. Encouragement is the act of noticing the effort, not the outcome. We are a very outcome oriented society and we are constantly told to look at the outcome or bottom line. If parents notice the outcome, they send discouraging messages to their children that they are only worth something if their efforts produce a solid result. Encouragement focuses on character strengths and assets, which are essential to building self-confidence and self-worth.

I first learned about encouragement in a Systematic Training for Effective Parenting course I was teaching. I quickly found out that you could use this technique with anyone.

The skill of encouragement teaches children that their efforts are recognized no matter what the outcome. Parents are asked to notice the action. Instead of saying, “good boy” or “good girl,” which is praising the child, the parent is expected to remark on the action, which is encouragement. They might say something like, “it looks like you worked hard on that,” or “you’ve spent a long time on organizing your folder.” Now, this skill may sound easy, but it is not. This is primarily for two reasons. When I told parents to find positives in a C+ or half cleaned room, they were afraid that if they commented positively on the effort it would send the message that a C was okay or a half cleaned room was sufficient. However, research shows that noticing the effort instills a desire to try harder. That’s right! Children will try harder if their confidence is boosted. The second reason that this can be a difficult concept is because it means that we have to pay attention to the process. What did your child do that showed positive action? This skill requires focusing on the positive and not on mistakes. Let’s face it, in our society we have been taught to focus on what a person does wrong, as opposed to what an individual does right.

However, the take home message here is that people are more influenced and they have a better sense of self-worth if they are reinforced for their contribution. We can really make a difference in a child’s self concept if we reinforce three simple concepts:

1. We accept them exactly as they are.
2. They are allowed to make mistakes.
3. We notice and appreciate their effort.

Parenting, by far, is the most important responsibility one can have because it requires that you are constantly instilling a sense of confidence in your child. Remember to have faith in their ability to improve and to focus on the positive of any situation that they are in. Recognize their accomplishments by noticing the effort and the improvement. And, if you don’t have children, practice these skills on your spouses, co-workers, and friends. People want to be around encouragers. And remember, we get what we give.

For more information on Systematic Training for Effective Parenting call 236-1500.

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