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Criticism vs. Coaching – How to talk to your child

Many parents struggle saying positive or encouraging comments to their children. For some, it feels uncomfortable to give affirmation, because it wasn’t something they heard while growing up. For others, they feel that giving kids praise will cause them to become prideful or have unrealistic beliefs about their abilities. I’ve actually had some parents tell me, “I don’t want to build up my kids’ hopes up, paint a rosy picture, or be dishonest with them about life. My parents didn’t speak a lot of positive things to me, and I didn’t turn out that bad.” However, avoiding affirmation is not the way to storm-proof your family – especially in a stormy world.

There’s a biblical proverb that says, “The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.” In other words, positive words of encouragement help make your children shine brightly by building their confidence and security. Therefore, find ways to praise your kids and be a source of strength that nurtures their healthy development. Your child takes your affirmation to believe, “If mommy and daddy think I have what it takes, then I must!

Positive words encourage children reach their full potential and reflect the goodness of God in their own unique way. Our children become who we say they are. If we repeatedly say to them that they are stubborn, lazy, rebellious, slow in school, or have ADD or ADHD, then that is what they will become.

Recently, a mom introduced her young daughter to me by saying, “This is Sophie…she’s very shy.” It was almost as if she was apologizing for her daughter. Yet, Sophie didn’t seem overly shy to me. After her mom left the room, she made eye contact and quickly began to smile, laugh, and play with other kids in the room. However, when her mom returned, Sophie began to act shy, just the way her mother said, which she had absorbed as the expected way to behave. In Sophie’s case, her mother could provide affirmation by saying that her daughter is cautious and likes to get to know people gradually. Imagine the difference those words would make!

Putting a positive spin on things whenever possible will go a long way to producing the behavior we desire to see in our children. One of the things I teach at my parenting workshops and at my karate school is the difference between criticism and coaching. For instance, let’s say your child is running through the house screaming and yelling wildly. If you say, “Stop being so loud! You are driving me crazy!” – that’s criticism. If you respond in this way, all your child hears in his mind is, “I’m so loud. I drive her crazy.” That is not going to produce the positive change you’re after. Instead, you could say, “Hey, remember – walk and use your inside voice, please.” In this way, he hears the command, “Walk and use my inside voice.” That’s coaching.

Criticism is always talking about the behavior you don’t want. Coaching is seeding and telling them the behavior you do want. What you talk about is what you are going to get. So, say what you want to see! Point out the positive things you see your child doing, no matter how rare, and make a big deal about it. Label them as great leaders, great readers, great friends to others, determined, disciplined, and every other godly quality you can find in Scripture. Encourage, them with words like, “Wow, you did a good job cleaning your room, Johnny. I’m very proud of you! Make sure you check your chore chart so that you don’t miss anything. You are becoming so responsible.” Or, you could say, “You worked so diligently in dance class today! I can really see you improving.” Praise pours positive power into the lives of our children.

Realize that from time to time you may still want to say negative things. That’s natural. Our flesh wants to get back at our kids for being difficult or embarrassing us. When this happens, say nothing about the behavior or issue until you are under control. Calmly tell them to go to their room and wait for you. This gives you times to cool off, pray, and respond with patience rather than overreaction. If something should slip out, admit that you were unfair or unkind and apologize to your children, making sure they know that you love them, accept them, and believe that they can do better.

Children feed off of the affirmation, or lack thereof, from their parents. Help storm-proof your kids for the tough times in life by using words as a powerful encouragement tool. Use a coaching approach to verbal discipline and say what you want to see. Then, watch as the vision of your child’s life unfolds before your eyes.

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