By Bev and Phil Haas
Lately my husband and I have noticed that our daughter seems discouraged. She finally admitted to us that she feels like she can’t do anything right. We’re looking for suggestions on how we can turn these negative feelings around and boost her faith in herself.
A key to turning around your daughter’s feelings of discouragement is through effective encouragement. Rudolf Dreikurs, a renowned child psychiatrist, claimed, “The most important skill for raising a child is the ability to encourage that child.” Dreikurs goes on to note that encouragement is so important that the lack of it could be considered the basic influence for misbehavior and (we would add) discouragement.
In addition to insights from child psychiatrists, we find throughout the Scriptures both instructions to encourage one another and verses that are meant to encourage us. One of our favorite verses is 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
Why is encouragement emphasized in the Bible? We believe it’s primarily because encouragement is necessary to our walk of faith.
Most adults are skilled at dishing out discouragement, having received more than their share. We have learned how to yell, threaten, nag, interrogate, and criticize when problems arise. We can be quick to point out what’s wrong with our kids and slow to point out what’s right. Therefore we must be careful not to allow our home to become mistake-centered where we obsess over the negative while overlooking the positive.
Healthy homes need both positive and negative interactions. Communication researchers suggest that a healthy balance is 80 percent positive and 20 percent negative. Keep in mind that one negative interaction takes four positives to bring us back into balance. It seems that your daughter may be on overload from negative feedback and needs more positive input. Some of the negative may be real and some may be simply her perception. Regardless, we would prescribe a regular dose of heartfelt encouragement.
Everyone Needs Encouragement
Williams James is considered by many to be one of the greatest psychologists our country has produced. He wrote a book about human needs. Not long after it was published, he confessed to some friends, “I now perceive one immense omission in my Psychology—the deepest principle of Human Nature is the CRAVING TO BE APPRECIATED, and I left it out altogether from the book.” Appreciation is akin to encouragement. Like William James, we can be guilty of omission when it comes to recognizing our need and the need of those around us to be encouraged.
Our point is that we all need to be appreciated from time to time, and we all need encouragement—you, your daughter, us. Even Jesus needed to hear words of appreciation and encouragement from his heavenly Father. Twice in the Gospels we hear God speaking to his Son. On both occasions (Matthew 3:17 and 17:5), God said, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Most definitely encouraging words!
Encouragement is simply positive feedback that focuses primarily on effort or improvement rather than outcomes. Be alert for opportunities to encourage your daughter. Don’t wait for perfect outcomes to encourage. Any amount of progress toward a goal can be reason to encourage.
Recently Phil was teaching our grandson how to ride a bike without training wheels. Instead of pointing out the things that Caden wasn’t doing or was doing wrong, he focused on what Caden did right. Phil chose to be a cheerleader for Caden with words like, “You’re doing great!” and “I knew you could do it!” After riding about 50 yards on his own, Caden yelled back at Phil, “You’re the bike teacher!”
Watch what you say and how you say it. Words like “You can do it,” convey confidence and respect whereas words like “Here, let me do that for you” imply doubt and disrespect.
Words of encouragement and little notes of praise left on the bed or posted on Facebook can move your daughter’s day toward the good. Focus on behavior or actions. Beyond your own encouragement, use what Doug Fields has termed “outside encouragement.” This is specific encouragement that comes from outside of you as the parent. You facilitate it, but others deploy it. A new voice, using different words with a different motive, can become very meaningful.
So get started. Surround your daughter with encouragement. You can give too little encouragement, but you don’t have to be concerned about giving too much.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.