A graduation, a pic-nic, and another story of joy hiding in the smallest things.
Hello again! When I was a child, I remember how important it was to know my family was proud of me. It was important they celebrated my efforts, achievements and that they were also there for me when I experienced failure. As a mom of two boys, aged 10 and 5, I try to always remind myself of how important it is to show my own kids how proud I am for them. Show it in a way they understand and for all the things that matter to them. The things they feel proud of and also the things they feel they could do better at or experiencing as failure.
Here is a common story. 9 years ago, when George, my eldest, was 1 year old, he made his first little baby steps. His first unsteady little steps! I very vividly remember how I felt on that day. He was trying and falling and keep trying till he actually made his first steps. He was so happy I was so happy and of course a wee celebration in the house followed with hundreds of pictures. No exaggeration here, literally hundreds. The same thing happened when he managed to hold his spoon and started eating without help. Once again, hundreds of pictures and a wee celebration of this milestone. Same thing when he said his first word, counted to three, learned to read his first word. Does this sound familiar? Have you also been there? Since then there have been many milestones in his development that we celebrated, showing how proud we are for his efforts and achievements.
What about the daily achievements? How do we acknowledge these and show our child we are proud of them? More importantly, what about what the child experiences as a failure, which is probably the most important time we need to express how proud we are of them? As a working mom, juggling a career in medicine, I know how difficult it can be and how much guilt we sometimes feel when we are not present when something important happens. Or when we are too busy at work or too tired. I know this for fact, as I am also walking the walk. First thing first, get rid of any guilt and let us explore TOGETHER how we can praise our children for the little and big achievements and give them pride in failures. Do this in a way they understand. In a way that matters to them and is meaningful to them.
Research suggests although we are all proud of our kids, the way we are communicating this is not always good enough. Research also highlights how important it is to praise our children to support their development at all levels.
It is important we express this and communicate it effectively to motivate them, teach them how to be proud of themselves and how to accept themselves. Teach them how to learn from success and failure, turning both into steps for future development. Descriptive praise, encouraging efforts and using rewards are a few ways of doing this effectively. Using all above is the recipe to behavioural change:
- Descriptive praise: tell your child what it is they did that made you proud of them. Explain to them why rather than simply saying “I am proud of you”.
- Encouraging efforts: acknowledge the effort and praise it. “I see how much effort you put into your homework today. Well done!”, or “tell me how you made this drawing. I like the colors and the theme. How did you make these choices?”
- Rewards: using treats tailored to your child’s likes is a fantastic way of telling them they did a good job!
Combining all three above works magic! When we praise, encourage and offer reward for a certain behaviour it is more likely our child will adapt this behaviour. The precondition is we need to notice positive behaviours in the first instance. Our brain is wired to notice negative behaviours more than the positive ones. As parents we should be aware of this and make deliberate effort to notice, praise, encourage and reward positive behaviours.
Words carry a lot of meaning and weight. Our parenting magic words are:
I love you: I know I have not revealed a secret, rather than pointing the obvious. However, saying “I love you” is vital. It creates the psychological safety for the children to develop, become self-confident and self-appreciative and thrive.
“I believe in you”
Support and Encourage
“Just Go for it!”
Interested and Curious
“Tell me how you made this”, “Show me how you did this”
“I am proud of you”: tell your child you are proud of them. Important we express this in a way that our child understands it. Equally important we validate what we say. We explain why we are proud. Every accomplishment, small or big deserves a celebration and acknowledgment of the effort your child put into that accomplishment. Rituals are a very good way to do this. Tailored to the child’s interests and likes, a special treat to celebrate. A note saying “you did this!”. Very important to express how proud we are when our child experiences failure. Don’t compare the child to another child or sibling. If the child does this themselves explain we are all unique and different. Explore with them what it is they feel they could have done better and what they can do to improve.
Walk beside you
“I am here, no matter what”. I walk with you, beside you. Not ahead or behind. Beside you. I hold your hand when you need me to. I am letting you explore, be curious about the world and sharing my knowledge with you. I am here for you, see you grow and become your unique self.
A kind reminder this is not at all about us moms and dads. Very importantly remember we are all perfectly imperfect. There is no perfect child or perfect mom or dad.
It was this Friday my youngest son graduated from kindergarten. Because of the pandemic we could not attend the ceremony. However, he returned home so happy and proud wearing a graduation hat, holding a little paper bag with treats he would not share with anyone else in the world, labelled as “you did it!”. The school, despite the barriers and obstacles made it so memorable for the kids. Using love, care and creativity!
The weather was good, and we had a celebration picnic in our local park to make it memorable. Lots of colourful baloons too.
Regardless the weather, a cuddle, a smile and our parental magic words: I love you, I am here and proud of you.
Dr Ioanna Nixon, Oncologist and Career, Performance, Leadership and Resilience Coach