Encouraging our Stepkids
Is there a soul among us who doesn’t need encouragement? Whether it’s for a work project, a relationship or one of life’s trials, everyone, at some point desires the endorsement of a trusted friend or family member reassuring our efforts. Children trying to find their place in a new family situation especially need the encouragement of the adults in their lives.
It is said that a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. A child consistently behaving badly in a particular school or family matter has likely already labeled himself a failure in that situation. He is discouraged.
Consider the child’s initial reserve of self confidence as a bank account with a small balance. As he or she grows and learns by experiences, that account is drawn upon. Positive feedback conveying praise and approval for accomplishments, results in deposits to the account. Negative or critical observations are withdrawals; too many of which, will place the account in deficit. It’s when the account is depleted that the child identifies other methods of handling a situation. Prior to addressing the actions he chooses to mask his discouragement; parents are wise to first investigate the root cause. Then the account of self-esteem can begin building up with deposits of encouragement.
Young children have an amazing drive toward autonomy and self sufficiency. Their attempts are often time consuming, messy and frustrating for the adult who is short on patience, time or tolerance. The following example demonstrates how we may unknowingly create an environment of discouragement. You can substitute any gender, age or scenario where personal skills are being developed.
It’s Monday morning and you should have been on the road to the day care center 15 minutes ago. Your four year old who learned to tie her own shoes this weekend insists on doing so this morning. She is full of confidence …after all, she received hugs, claps and praise from the entire family. Dad even took a video to send to grandma! Significant deposits were made to her account. This morning, however, things are so rushed that there is no time for her to demonstrate the skill she has just mastered. You insist on tying them; she refuses to let you. Your parental power ratchets up a notch and it is met with a full-blown tantrum. Frustration gives way to anger and the child is finally forced to abandon her mission and have her shoes tied for her.
Without realizing it we can make a huge withdrawal from the account which funds the self-esteem of our children. When we send the message that their efforts to be useful and capable are inadequate, we directly affect their valuation of themselves. In the shoe-tying example, we may see only the efficiency of time, but the child experiences a failed accomplishment. She is discouraged.
Kids need room to grow and achieve their goals. Their abilities need to be tested in the field so they can conquer fears and recognize dangers. This is not to advocate for too much responsibility too soon, but over protectiveness can be as discouraging as standards that are set too high. Both extremes can remove the incentive for confidently adding life skills. Finding new and different approaches without suggesting wrong or incompetent behavior is your challenge. Acknowledging mistakes and errors with the faith that your child will improve, is the epitome of encouragement.
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