I love to encourage my kids, and I bet you do, too. It’s not shocking that most parents delight in and seek ways to lift up their kids with words or deeds. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? But as we pour encouragement over our kids, have we thought about intentionally teaching our kids to encourage others?
Building our kids’ self-esteem is important, but as Christians, we are also called to be others-focused. Teaching kids to be encouragers helps them take the focus off of themselves and actively uplift, support and inspire others.
To be honest, I used to put encouragement in the spiritual gift category and leave it there. Someone either had the “gift of encouragement,” as described in Romans 12:6-8, or they didn’t. And those who didn’t were kind of off the hook, so to speak.
Not so, it turns out.
No, being an encourager is not just a cherry-on-top trait, but rather a core attribute of Christians. Paul tells us,“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up….” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). He also says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness”(Hebrews 3:13).
Actually, the entire Bible is a letter of love and encouragement from the Lord to you and me.
Perhaps your children were not, eh hem, gifted with encouragement. That’s okay, encouragement can be taught, just like sharing and good manners.
Here are a few tips for teaching your child to be an encourager:
? Define “encourage” for your kids (To inspire with hope or confidence; to uplift; to give support to; foster; to stimulate; spur).
? Ask them to discuss a time when they have been encouraged by others and how that made them feel.
? Ask them to think of ways to encourage others and then help them act on their ideas.
? Model encouragement for them. Think of ways to actively encourage your spouse in the presence of your children.
? Script scenarios and words that can be used to encourage others (just as you scripted scenarios and proper words to use when teaching manners). Scenarios we’ve used include uplifting a family member who is sick; encouraging a friend who is sad; and spurring on a classmate who is struggling in school.
? Positively acknowledge when you see encouraging behavior from your child. When one of my children encourages a sibling or a friend (or me!) I say something like, “Thank you so much for encouraging your brother with his spelling words. I think your kind words really boosted his confidence for his test tomorrow.” It’s funny how acknowledging encouraging behavior begets more encouraging behavior….
? Conversely, correct discouraging behavior immediately. Yes, siblings bicker and use unkind words with each other, but you should not condone this behavior. Treating siblings poorly should not be a forgone conclusion or given a pass. We’ve had conversations like, “You will not call your sister derogatory names. She deserves to grow up in a home where she feels loved and respected — and so do you. If anyone speaks negatively to you, they will also be corrected.” In our house, we will be for each other.
? As a family, memorize Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
If the suggestions above are too mature for younger kids, fear not. Some of my favorite memories involve a great tool for toddlers we called “waiting-your-turn-encouragement.” While one child is taking a turn (going down a slide, swinging, playing with a toy, etc.), the waiting children cheer on the child whose turn it is.
This practice benefits all parties – the child taking the turn has their own cheering section; the children in line are focused on cheering for the other child instead of it not being their turn; and the parents hear cheers instead of “But, when is it mmmyyyyy turn?”
It’s a thing of beauty, really. (Oh, and if a child chooses to not participate in cheering, they are also choosing to lose their turn. That consequence seems to help in their decision-making process.)
And as your kids learn to uplift others, don’t be surprised when you also become a beneficiary of their encouragement. Recently I was in the kitchen scrubbing a pan that I could not get clean. And while I’m not admitting to burning dinner, my oldest daughter came up and said,“I still see some black on it, Mom, but you are doing a great job!”
It turns out scrubbing a pan while smiling makes the task infinitely easier.