Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Be a Contagious Encourager!

When times are tough or when children face tough times, it’s natural to feel discouraged. However, both encouragement and discouragement are the most contagious of emotions. Effectively showing encouragement will help our children better cope with their health issues. 
Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Do you know what the opposite of encouragement is? It is generally the showing of frustration. Frustration creeps in as children grow older and parents start to realize they can’t control their children’s responses to their illnesses but somehow still think they should!

Show your children encouragement by the pleasure you display when you turn over increasing responsibility for healthcare to your children.  Start with small, steady increments in the early elementary years. “Wow, I bet you feel pretty good about the job you did on that!” Or, “How are you feeling about the decisions you are making?”  Correct wording such as this puts the problem on the resistant child while providing the child a sense of accomplishment for making healthy decisions. 
As noted, the positive attributes of Encouragement are contagious. Simply saying, “I bet you are proud of how you remember your medicine” is more effective than saying, “I’m proud of the way you take your medicine.” Effective communication is easily learned and especially effective for kids with special healthcare needs. We give many examples in our book, Parenting Children with Health Issues.

Praise and encouragement are very different. The better the parent/child relationship, the better praise works, but praise can be used to manipulate both sender and receiver. Encouragement through questions puts the healthcare issues and results directly on the child. Questions promote a high self-image and allow the adult to express both joy and disappointment while encouraging the child to think. 

Love and Logic, a popular parenting program, teaches that curiosity and interest about self-care issues almost always trump worry and concern, just as ideas and thoughts trump advice, suggestions, and pleading. Questions give resistant children less adult emotion to manipulate but do show curiosity and interest. For example, asking a difficult child, “How do you always manage to remember to take your medicine?” is generally more effective than, “Good job on remembering your medicine.”

Descriptive phrases help children focus on and evaluate their accomplishments, treatment decisions, and results rather than provide the child with outside judgments. Resistant children can easily negate non-descriptive praise for a number of reasons. “I notice that…” is a good way to begin a descriptive phrase.

So use descriptive phrases, ask lots of questions, and keep your frustration from showing. Your children will feel good about themselves from the inside out rather than needing your approval to feel successful and encouraged.  

Visit www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com for articles, Ask Dr. Cline, and free audio. The book Parenting Children with Health Issues: Essential Tools, Tips and Tactics for Raising Kids with Chronic Illness, Medical Conditions and Other Special Needs by Foster Cline, M.D and Lisa C. Greene is available online and in bookstores. 

Dr. Cline is a well-known child psychiatrist, author, and co-founder of the popular Love and Logic parenting program. Lisa Greene is the mother of two children with cystic fibrosis and a family life educator.

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