What Does Authentic Encouragement Look Like?
To encourage your child is one of the best ways to raise their confidence, self-belief and resilience. However, there are problems with dishing out over encouragement or inauthentic encouragement.
Encouragement is the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.Oxford Dictionary
Parents are the most influential leaders
Parents have the wonderful opportunity to lead their children. They are the first type of leader the child will come across. Naturally, even before a child is able to speak, they will look to their parents for ‘support, confidence or hope’. They are looking to their father and mother for the way forward.
Words carry weight
A large part of a parent’s leadership will be shown through what they say. They have the privilege of speaking into their child’s life. Parents’ words carry weight. What they say to and about their child impacts the way the child thinks about themselves. Over time, a mindset begins to build in the child about what they are able to accomplish.
A mindset is an attitude, or a cluster of thoughts with attached information and emotions that generate a particular perception. They shape how you see and interact with the world. They can catapult you forward, allowing you to achieve dreams, or put you in reverse drive if you are not careful.Dr Caroline Leaf
Mindsets are powerful tools. If the mindset the child has built is self-affirming, the child will be able to process the challenges they will face in life, easier than if they have low self-esteem and self-belief.
Every day, there are multiple opportunities to ‘redesign our brains’ through what we think (1). If a child has always thought that they are sub-standard, moment by moment, day by day they can choose to begin thinking that they are uniquely intelligent. A parent has a powerful role to play in this process. They can’t think for their child, but they can begin speaking words that can eventually turn into their child’s thoughts.
However, the child’s mindset won’t only be made up of their parents’ words, it will also be influenced by the child’s actions (whether or not they are completing tasks the way they hoped they would); how the child and their parents respond to the result (whether they are seeing a way forward and assessing their effort, or only focussing on the result); their own thoughts and words (whether they are thinking or saying things like, “I’m rubbish at this”, or “I’m quite good at that”); and other people’s words.
There are multiple ‘influencers’ changing the landscape of the child’s mindset about themselves, but when a parent verbalises genuine belief in their child, the landscape of the child’s mind is dramatically affected. We need only to look at a verbally abused child, and the negative effects it has, to see the power of a parents’ words. Because parents are leaders, children, like adults, are influenced by a leader more than by a follower.
We simply perform better when there is someone important in our life who genuinely believes that we are able to achieve what we set out to achieve.
What does encouragement do to the brain?
Positivity is a powerful brain-boosting tool. When we look at the effects of negative thoughts on our brain, we see that emotions like fear, anger or stress debilitates our concentration, cognitive skills and creativity. Positive emotions like love, joy or hope do the exact opposite. In the face of negative events and emotions, our prefrontal cortex, which has been implicated in cognitive and social behaviour, and in general is designed to connect us with people, does not function optimally (2).
When we receive authentic encouragement, the results are 1) positive emotions, which helps our brain to process information better, and 2) self-affirming thoughts that, if repeated overtime, will produce positive mindsets. Those mindsets of confidence, or resilience, or hope make the life journey successful, no matter the circumstances.
With this in mind, (mind the pun), one can see the vitally important role of authentic encouragement.
What does authentic encouragement look like?
Growing up, my parents would often stand on the side of the field. They would make as many matches as possible. You could see their genuine support. You could hear when they gave my brother and I praise for our effort, that they believed what they were saying, and that it brought joy to them to see us do well. They would encourage us to see that there are always things to learn from and be positive about. Not in a way that discounted pain, but through the lens (mindset) that the very process of life, is more important than the results we want to see.
One of the five pillars on which we base our training is authenticity. We believe in being genuine. Trust is built when you can see that a person is real and sincere. Children are quick to sniff out a person who is not being true to themselves and others.
So, practically, authentic encouragement from a parent looks like:
1. One who doesn’t fear speaking the truth or acknowledging that their child isn’t perfect. They encourage their child to see their unique intelligence. Imperfection is not inadequacy.
“It’s actually our ability to embrace imperfection that will help us teach our children to have the courage to be authentic, the compassion to love themselves and others, and the sense of connection that gives true purpose and meaning to life,”Brené Brown
2. A parent who encourages their child to see that there are always lessons to learn from difficult circumstances, which may include a child struggling to achieve something. They instil a growth-mindset and not a fixed-mindset.
3. They use words of praise for their child’s *effort in areas in which they are strong, and words of praise for their child’s *effort in areas in which they are weak. *Note that encouraging a child’s effort (and not just good results) is of utmost importance to build resilience from a young age.
Authentic encouragement looks like supporting your child in action, by showing interest in what they are attempting to achieve; growing their confidence, by displaying sincere pride and joy in their effort, process and accomplishments; and building their hope, by speaking words that align with a growth-mindset.