Mindful Parenting: Encourage Kids Rather than Praise or Criticize

As a therapist for children and parenting support provider, I like to help parents be very clear about their vision and purpose when considering how they interact with their children.  It is my desire to assist parents in being mindful, being present, being intentional in the way we go about raising and guiding our children.

We want kids to develop an intrinsic sense of worth and value rather than be dependent on extrinsic sources to boost their self esteem. More simply said, we want children to feel good about themselves from their own conclusions rather than be addicted to having their parents and teachers tell them how good they are.  

I recommend parents remove the words "good" and "bad" from their vocabulary to begin. The words "good" and "bad" are words that either suppress children's ability to explore who they are or artificially elevate their sense of self dependent upon external feedback.   I prefer to teach parents how to encourage and reflect rather than review and rate. Praise focuses on the product while encouragement focuses on the effort. 

Consider this scenario: Your child brings you a drawing she's been working on at the dining room table and she says with a big smile on her face, "Mommy, look!" If you say, "Sweetie, that is beautiful! Good job!" you have just reviewed and rated your daughter's product. If alternatively you say, "You spent a lot of time working on this. Look at all the colors you chose to use. I can tell by the smile on your face that you are very proud," then you are reflecting the emotion (pride and pleasure with her own effort) she is presenting, reflecting back your observation of the effort she put forth and encouraging her to continue to work hard and to feel proud of herself.

Try telling your child, "Thank you for helping with the dishes. That was very helpful," instead of, "Good job." Next time your son takes out the garbage without having to be asked you might say, "You noticed the garbage can was getting full and you chose to bag it up and take it out without anyone asking you to. You're realizing this is your house too and pitching in shows that you care about keeping things nice around here." 

An occasional pat on the back and "good job" is not all ill-advised. In fact, every once in a while some praise in healthy doses can be a nice peppering of positive reinforcement. Day in and day out, however, parents are going to see a more lasting positive result, higher levels of self esteem, more motivation and initiative in your kids if you provide reflective encouragement rather than ratings and reviews.

Being a parent who wishes to observe the mindfulness practice requires a lot of practice observing our reactions internally and catching ourselves before we allow that reaction to externalize. Whether it's a thrill with our child's performance and an urge to say, "You are great!" or an instantaneous fury that they've left their wet towels on the floor, mindfulness practice helps us to catch the reactive feeling before we blurt out a criticism or a praise. In both cases, we can encourage our children to own responsibility for their achievements and their shortcomings.

Mindfully yours,

Lynn Louise Wonders


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