Raising self-motivated children is usually a priority for parents.
To develop self-motivation, children must first develop an internal locus of control. This refers to the belief that they are in control over what happens in their lives, which includes feeling motivated to achieve or do something well for themselves. It also involves taking responsibility when things do not turn out as planned and owning any mistakes they have made.
Encouragement is key to helping children to develop these skills and is the foundation of Positive Discipline. However, encouragement is quite different from praise and while praise has its place, it should be
It is hard for parents to accept that praise is best kept to a minimum. Many of us grew up with praise and have now grown to becoming “praise junkies.” Praise feels good and can be very motivating. The danger comes when we believe we are doing well only when receiving praise. By relying on an external source of confirmation and validation, we can feel discouraged when that praise does not come.
Praise can be given with little focus while making dinner or doing the dishes. “Great job” or “that’s great” are all things we can say without really engaging with what is being shown or told by our children. To genuinely provide encouragement we need to take time to notice while being engaged and interested from the child’s point of view. Encouragement will help develop a child’s sense of capability and self-esteem by having children reflect on their efforts. This would include statements such as: “Wow, you can be proud of that picture, I can see you really took the time to colour it well,” or “What made you decide to use this colour?”
Jane Nelsen, in the book “Positive Discipline,” offers the following questions to determine whether the statements made to children are praise or encouragement:
Am I inspiring self-evaluation or dependence on the evaluation of others?
Am I being respectful or patronising?
Am I seeing the child’s point of view or only my own?
Would I make this comment to a friend?
Remembering to encourage by noticing effort, improvement and attitude invites children to change for themselves while taking ownership and responsibility for their achievements.
Andrea Kilam-Higgo and Philippa Roney are teachers at Cayman International School.