By: Staci Stallings
I’m reading a very interesting book called “The Joy of Encouragement.” In the book the author David Jeremiah talks about being a parent and the things that parents are expected to be to their kids–provider, shelterer, nurturer, disciplinarian. But he says that one of the most important roles a parent plays in the life of a child is that of cheerleader.
Being a parent of three very different children, I can tell you that this is easier said than done. On the one hand, you have the problem of going to the extreme. If you are constantly praising your child, the effects of additional praise can be muted. So going full “Hey! Hey! You’re great!” isn’t very effective. Further, a sole focus on praising can lead to you thinking of yourself as a friend rather than as a parent–a situation that might work when they are younger but in the teenage years will leave everyone looking for a way out.
Instead, you must find a balance of using your role to lift kids up rather than tearing them down. Now, lots of people in our society fall into this trap–bosses, teachers, professors, even friends. They will say mean things–either sarcastically or not–and then tell you they were only teasing or that they said it for your own good. They lead by making you fear them, which in my opinion is the most destructive way to “motivate” other than outright physical abuse. In fact, I classify much of this type of “motivation” as emotional abuse.
Saying to someone, “Man, you’re dumb.” Doesn’t nothing to motivate them to learn more. It only serves to cut their will to learn off at the knees.
The Message Bible has this passage, “The authority the Master gave me is for putting people together, not taking them apart.” (2 Corinthians 13:10)
That is the authority that parents are given–the authority to put children together, not take them apart.
In my world, I have three children and all have different “cheerleading” requirements.
The oldest is a classic oldest child–self-starter, perfectionistic, nose-to-the-grindstone, and rigid. She likes rules. She likes to know where the boundaries are. Coloring outside the lines–no matter what area of life you’re talking about–is strictly forbidden. She’s starting to drive now, and if the speed limit is 35, she will not go over 34. Period.
I have learned with her, unless it is literally a physical issue that she will get hurt if she does it, to let her chart her own course–otherwise I will get run over. If you ever saw the gyroscope episode of Candid Camera years ago, you know what I mean. She is going one direction (hers) and nothing and no one is going to turn her.
With this daughter, encouragement looks very much like being a radar operator. You must pay very close attention to when she needs help and know how to offer help in a way that will help but won’t look too much like you are helping. She likes praise, but won’t jump up in your face to tell you what she did to get it. In short, with this one, you’ve got to pay close attention or you simply won’t even notice her ups or downs.
My second daughter is the polar opposite of this. She laps up praise like a dog with water on a hot day. She works for praise, knocks herself out for praise, and the very worst thing you can do with her is to criticize something she has worked really hard on. That will take the legs out from under her faster than anything. But this one will ask for help, and ask, and ask, and ask. She is also a perfectionist, and she knows she can’t do it on her own. At finals time, I get to spend a lot of time “learning” with her. Science for HOURS! Social Studies… more hours! And I don’t have to ask if she needs help. She will be right there, “Mom, quiz me.” Praise goes a long way with this one, and she’s anything but quiet about it.
Finally my son who has had issues with dyslexia… early on, he thrived on praise. When he got into first grade and the dyslexia started to be an issue, praise really didn’t seem to help that much (though maybe it helped more than I give it credit for). With this child, praise needs to often be in the form of “something.” A small toy. A day at Chuck-E-Cheese. Going swimming. He likes tangible praise. Oh, verbal praise works, but if he gets something, he’s on the moon happy. So with him I’ve had to do a lot of charts working toward a reward. Also, he’s my one that loves to “tell people” when something great happens. The other two are too, but they will wait to get their report cards in at the six weeks. My son wants praise for each spelling test (which honestly I understand based on how much time he’s put into it).
So, there you go, three kids, three different styles of cheerleading required. If you have a child in your life, it’s important to find the style of cheerleading that works for them and use it. Don’t lead with fear. Lead with faith and with building them up. It works so much better!