– by Kathy Kuhl
Are you discouraging your child without realizing it? Does your tone of voice communicate disgust, despair, or annoyance? You might try tape recording your voice. If turning the recorder on makes you suddenly kinder, leave it on until you forget it is on, and then listen to how you sound. Maybe you are scowling or frowning as you teach. Try to “freeze your face,” walk over to a mirror, and see what your children see, as Melinda L. Boring suggests in her book, Heads Up Helping!
Encourage with Praise
How do we encourage our children? First, we praise them. Praise their progress. When we see no progress, we can still praise them for not giving up. Trying again and again is heroic. My son worked harder for his C’s in geometry than I did for my A’s, so I told him that I respected the way he did not quit. Have you ever struggled hard in a class, only to get a C, D, or F? A low grade is not much of a prize, considering the effort it costs some- times. Is your child doggedly keeping on? Who will notice and praise them if you do not?
Your praise should be specific. It is easy to let our criticism be specific, (“You forgot to capitalize,” “I cannot read this handwriting,”) and our praise be vague (“Nice work,” “Good job.”) Tell your children what you like about their work. Perhaps one child did not capitalize, but he had an unusual insight, a creative idea, or a well-turned phrase. Praise him!
In Punished By Rewards, Alfie Kohn recommends that praise be specific and urges that praise should never be overblown or insincere. Children recognize baloney. Don’t gush over their work as if you are homeschooling a little genius. Even if you are, you do them no favors with extravagant praise. You will only teach him that either you are easy to fool or that the rest of the world should treat him that way. It will not.
Kohn also points out that if we make rewards too big or important, children may learn to work only to earn rewards. They will miss the joy of work well done. We want our children to read, not just because it earns them free pizza or ice cream or bowling, but for the pleasure of reading. When you offer incentives, make sure that your child has a reasonable chance of reaching the target, remembering that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12 ESV).
Encourage by Building Self-Esteem
Finally, build their self-esteem by helping them develop their gifts. This can take time with some children who mature slowly. Let them try different activities. My son tried soccer, swimming, karate, and two scouting programs before he found what he liked―and it was sometimes very frustrating, even then. But he kept trying and became an Eagle Scout.
If you cannot tell what your child is good at yet, ask other adults who know him well. Sometimes we are so close to our child’s problems and struggles that we can overlook his budding talents: management, sales, Legos®, writing, an ability to ask good questions, art, music, etc.
Encourage Their Skills
In his lecture, “You Get More with Honey: Tools to Avoid Emotional Escalation While Working Toward Behavioral Goals,” psychologist Dr. Mark Hurley urged parents not to take away the activity the child excels in, when they need to punish a child. If your child struggles with school and only succeeds in soccer, don’t pull him off the soccer team. It discourages him too much, and his coach probably won’t have him back later, either.
Dr. Temple Grandin, a leading speaker and writer on autism—and autistic herself—agrees. In her lecture “My Experience with Autism” she says, “Never take away something that could be the child’s career, like musical instruments, arts, or computer programming. We’ve got to nurture the things that could turn into careers. … Talents are like fragile flowers. They can be stomped on and they’ve got to be nurtured” (www. ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/mindinstitute/events/dls_recorded_events.html).
Some of us begin homeschooling to rescue our children’s self-esteem and love of learning. Seeing our children blossom is one of the great joys of homeschooling. But it will not happen by accident. We must keep in mind that one of our chief goals is to encourage our children.
More Ways to Build Self-Esteem
- • Give your child work to do: chores around the house or volunteer work in the community.
- • Involve them in decisions. When you are shopping for next year’s history books, find out what they liked and did not like about the ones you use now. Ask them for ideas in solving family and homeschool problems when appropriate. Even when you cannot use their ideas, you can listen.
- • Take them out and talk to them, one-on-one. Wayne Rice, in Enjoy Your Middle Schooler, suggests going out occasionally—just one parent and one child—for a sandwich or other cheap date. The parent’s goal should be to ask questions and listen, not to criticize or lecture. Parents will be practicing for the day when they will have an adult child with whom they will want to be friends.
- • Make time alone together in the car. This is another good time to talk if you remember not to lecture.
This article is adapted from Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, 2009.