You Can Do It — the four most powerful words in the universe

Learning and practicing the art of encouragement can radically change your family life and nurture your child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

Encouragement differs from praise, which is general, high-energy, often exaggerated, and usually shallow.

Encouragement is specific, low-key, tells the truth and builds confidence and the courage to try again. The courage to try again after failure is one of the most important attributes of praise because failure is part of life. We learn our most important lessons from facing failure and fear.

Oprah interviewed J.K. Rowling on New Year’s Eve. Oprah ran a clip of the author’s famous line delivered at the 2008 Harvard University commencement: “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

As the story goes, Rowling wrote Harry Potter in cafés because they were warmer than her cold apartment. Rowling had the courage to try, and to risk failure — and success. She had the confidence and self-esteem to create something daring.

Many parents protect children from failure and attempting difficult tasks because they want the child or teen to experience success. Who in life has learned from success? Usually we achieve success after learning from failure — finding out what doesn’t work, starting over and trying again.

We must build an attitude in our children and teens of You can do it, then notice the baby steps they take towards a goal or task. That’s encouragement — to notice effort made. Praise can only be given after success. Encouragement can be given after every effort, whether it works or not.

At the end of my youngest daughter’s junior year of high school, she said, “Mom, can I go to Austria again with the orchestra?”

“How much is it?” I said.

“It’s $2,400.” Schools announce these trips nine months in advance so families have time to save and plan.

“You went to Austria two years ago with the orchestra. Isn’t once enough?” We paid for most of that trip.

“Can I please go?” she said.

“We’ll pay half,” I said.

“Half? I can never earn $1,200,” she said.

“I bet you can do it. You have nine months. You’d have to earn $150 a month.”

In spite of her doubts, Kristen worked and saved and exceeded the goal of $1,200. She had enough leftover for souvenirs.

You can do it is useful for big and small situations.

When siblings and friends have disagreements, encourage them: “You can work it out”

When children are facing a challenge you know they can handle if they try again or try a different approach, use the four most powerful words in the universe, You can do it.

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