- Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is another side to this scenario. Some kids don't have much confidence or enthusiasm--and it holds them back! Their imaginations are more like wishes than goals. We, as parents, need to consciously build their confidence and praise their efforts.
I remember an incident that happened no less than 56 years ago, but it has stuck with me. I was eight years old, learning how to ice skate on my own. It was an indoor rink, in a landmark long ago torn down, called the “Winter Garden”. I had never been on ice skates before and if you were to see me, I would have reminded you of Bambi walking on a frozen pond.
I hugged the railing around the rink with the iron grip of a skinny kid, sprawling every few feet, face down still holding the rail. After a few trips around the rink, I let go for a foot or two, eventually skating maybe 10 feet without holding on to the rail. Of course, I fell along the way, and became very familiar with the hardness of ice!
The Winter Garden once hosted a minor league hockey team and had stands where parents and other relatives could watch the skaters. As I was leaving, with my bruised bottom and ego, an older couple looked down from the stands and said, very enthusiastically, “You did such a good job!” They had been watching me all this time and were impressed, or pretended to be impressed with my progress.
This small kindness had an almost profound impact on me! I remember smiling broadly, amazed that they had been watching and rooting for me. They weren’t praising my skating, they were praising me for my efforts. I grew an inch that day and my confidence in myself grew also. Their comments stayed with me and made me want to try to conquer other new things.
The Elephant in the Room ... anchored by a rope.
Just as I was inspired, your children need praise and encouragement also! They need praise for their efforts--and encouragement to try new things or to keep trying difficult things. Without encouragement, a child can become numb and stop trying. If you’ve seen elephants in the circus or zoo being held in place by a rope that they could easily escape from, then you have an example of what I mean.
These elephants were trained, when young and not yet as strong as they would ultimately become, that the rope was stronger than them and they were not getting away. The elephants soon stop trying and eventually, just knowing they were tethered to a rope kept them in check. Never allow your children get into a situation where they stop trying too soon. And certainly don’t be the rope that holds them back with discouraging words or unsupportive behavior.
When you praise your children’s effort and encourage their will and determination, you make a significant difference in their attitude and likely success. It’s not just helpful towards the goals they are trying to reach, but they realize something very important. They realize you notice, you care, you have faith, you love, you direct, you push, you validate, you empower!
It sounds so logical to praise and encourage your kids so why does it not happen more often? I think one reason is we just forget, especially when our kids get older. Parents miss opportunities to praise, which is natural when they are toddlers, learning to walk and talk. As they mature, some parents forget how important it is to be their kids’ cheerleader, or worse yet, parents can be overly critical. It is also possible that, in an effort to protect them, you may discourage your children from trying things at which you think they will fail. Don’t make these mistakes! Be positive and guide gently.
If you simply praise and encourage effort, and let them know that results are secondary to you, you won’t make the mistake of being a part of their failure. Of course, results are sometimes the bottom line, but not in parenting--not when your children’s determination and will are being demonstrated. With that going for them, your children will find what is right for them—and the results they and others are looking for will come.