Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Encouraging Our Children

I recently read Alyson Schafer's Honey, I Wrecked the Kids, and found it very thought provoking.  I generally have a couple of reactions to these books.  First, I am both disheartened and inspired.  Despite what the books say about not worrying about the past and becoming a better parent, I always feel guilty for the mistakes I've made as a parent.  I'm also inspired, because the books tend to be so heartening and hopeful.  They make me hopeful that I can become a better parent. 

Another one of my primary reactions is this: Oh, yea, you don't have twins.  I have yet to read a book that adequately addresses twins.  I've met people who try to liken their children, who may only be a year apart, to having twins.  No way.  Sure, there are challenges to raising kids close in age, but they aren't twins.  If you've been around small children, the difference between a 2 and 3 year old is significant.  Add the fact that twins have always been together -- even in utero.  The connections I see in my twins are profound. 

Back to Schafer's book.  Near the end of the book, Schafer offers 19 ways we can encourage our children.  I thought I would try and go through all 19 and see what I do or can do as I strive to become a better parent.  So here we go. 

1. Avoid discouragement
Schafer argues that one must put away praise (which she defines as different from encouragement) and punishment and be more encouraging.  As she describes, this seems easy, but her examples point to something more insidious.  One simple kind of discouragement parents do all the time is to discourage exploration or experimentation because we know it will result in failure.  But failure is a valuable learning tool.  If, as a parent, you've found yourself saying something, like, "Don't do that, it won't work.  Do it this way." That is a form of discouragement.  Of course there are times a parent must intervene, but correction before a child gets to experiment and learn discourages the child from experimenting. 

So I find myself doing this, mostly for expediency.  I want something done sooner than my sons can do it or I don't want to wait for the child to fail and then need my help.  But if I want my sons to become more independent and able and willing to solve their own problems.  I need to let them explore and learn for themselves, even through failure and frustration.  And I can't get frustrated with their failure or frustration. 

I have been working on this and improving.  I still have a ways to go.  I also think just less discouragement in the world is a good thing.  And I'll start with my own family.


  1. This is interesting - I do this with my students, and I need to stop 'discouraging'. I can't spare them the lessons of failure!

    Thanks for the good insight, I need to be reminded of these things before starting school.

    Neighbor Jen M.

  2. @ my Neighbor: Yea, that's funny you wrote that. At the end of the piece I started to go there because as a teacher I feel the same way. For the post I decided not to. I just wanted to keep it a bit more focused, but yes, I think her suggestions can easily be adapted.