The Process of Parenting: Encouraging
Well, here we are. The final installment of my Process of Parenting series. And we get to end on such a wonderful note – encouraging our kids! Before we move into my thoughts on how best to encourage our kids throughout their life journey, and why this is so important, I want to invite you to take a few moments to reflect on your own journey.
Who have been the encouragers in your life along the way? How have they been there for you and expressed their encouragement to you? What difference has it made for you? How has it impacted the way you see yourself and how you face life?
Now, wouldn’t you like to make that kind of impact on your own children’s lives? Every one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, desperately long in our hearts to know that someone really believes in us – and is willing to make the effort to share that belief with us for the world to hear. And no matter what kind of great relationship your child of any age may have with a coach, teacher, pastor, friend, or other relative, YOU have the power to be the most important and powerful source of encouragement in your child’s life! If encouraging hasn’t been your parental strong suit, that’s okay. Start working on it today. Pay attention to other adults who seem to have the gift of encouraging kids well. Learn from their examples. Ask them to mentor you. But no matter how new or awkward this might feel for you, and no matter which stage you may see your child in from the parenting process we have been examining, TODAY is the best day to start practicing the life changing art of encouraging your child. There are three basic forms of encouragement…
Let’s start with probably the simplest form of encouragement – recognizing your child for her/his successes and positive character attributes. Or, as I often like to put it, “catching your child in the act of doing the right thing.” We don’t have to wait for our children or teens to win an award or bring home a trophy or championship ring to let them know we are proud of them for the positive efforts and character they are showing in their lives. Now, I’m not talking about throwing a party for a fifth grader every time he brushes his teeth adequately. But you remember the shout of every child about to do something “daring” on a playground, don’t you? “Hey Dad/Mom, LOOK AT ME!” Each child yearns to be recognized and cheered for when they are facing a challenge. And do you really think that desire ever truly goes away? Of course not. So, let’s be vigilant and make the most of every opportunity we have to catch our kids in the act of doing the right thing, and make sure they know we are watching and pleased with their efforts – particularly when their efforts reflect strong character.
Another great form of encouragement we can share with our kids is to let them know we believe in them and their ability to handle the hard things they face. When the going gets tough, they need to know we are not only cheering for them, but we truly believe they have what it takes. And if we have been walking along side them, instructing and training and equipping them for the challenges, they will know in their hearts that we really mean it when we tell them, “You can do it!” Sometimes that well worded cheer of belief and support is the key difference in a child calling it quits in the face of an obstacle or tough leg of the journey and that child breathing deep, lifting his chin, and soldiering on through the finish line with grit and courage and confidence. Let’s be that difference for our kids!
The final type of encouragement is when we express to our kids that we are there with them on the journey, and they do not have to face life alone. My favorite illustration of this life-line of the committed presence of another person comes from The Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam are nearing the end of a mission that has felt like ten lifetimes in the making. The soul-draining weight of the evil One Ring has become more than Frodo can bear, and even though they are actually climbing their way up the side of the very mountain where their quest is to come to an end, he simply cannot take another step. In the face of countless challenges and threats, he has been encouraged by various friends and allies, particularly his faithful friend, Samwise Gamgee. But he’s done. The tank is beyond empty, and just can’t go on. And then Sam speaks up: “I can’t carry it for you. But I can carry you!” He then proceeds to stoop down, scoop up his friend, and carry him up the boulder-strewn face of Mt. Doom to face their destiny and accomplish the unthinkable. Frodo may have been the one chosen to be the Ring-Bearer, but he never would have made it without the encouragement and presence of his friend. Our kids are not likely to face a mission of such epic proportion as saving Middle Earth from destruction. But there will be times in their lives when their missions and challenges will threaten to bring them down. Will we be there to offer them the encouragement of our presence and commitment? Their tasks may be theirs to perform, but this doesn’t mean they must do them alone. Being interested, available, and present to our kids may be the very source of life they need to keep going through their hardest times. Let’s encourage them along the journey with our words, our cheers, and our committed presence.