A woman rides home from work on the Metro, still steaming after the late staff meeting she just left. “I worked most of the last three weekends to get that report done in time, but no one said a word about it. If they are just going to take me for granted, maybe I should quit.” A man stomps out the door to the car, following a trio of excited children. “Just because I work at home, why does everyone assume I’m always available to shuttle the kids to their karate class? Just once, I wish someone would say, ‘We really appreciate you doing the driving every week, Dave—what can we do to help you out?” As adults, we certainly understand the importance of appreciation—we know when we deserve it, we know it when we hear it and we miss it when we don’t receive it. Everyone of every age yearns for the acknowledgement of others who matter to us, the recognition that our presence and contributions are valued. Our very sense of "Who am I?" and "Do I matter?" is deeply rooted in our sense of belonging as a valued member of our social groups. This is why the appreciation and acknowledgement of others are so important—they provide an important confirmation that “Yes, I am recognized” and “Yes, I am valued.”
Children are particularly receptive to acknowledgement and appreciation, because they are working hard to form their beginning sense of “Who am I?” and “Do I matter?”. Together, acknowledgement and appreciation provide the encouraging message they want to hear: “Yes, you are recognized” and “Yes, you are appreciated.” This is why the early 20th century child psychologist Ruldolf Dreikurs famously said, “children need encouragement like a plant needs water.”
Encouragement can help a child who is overwhelmed and feeling defeated: “Gosh, that puzzle is awfully hard, isn’t it? I can understand why you would want to quit for now. But, I’ve seen you tackle hard things before, and I think you’ve got what it takes when you are ready to try again.”
Encouragement is so important, it can actually stop misbehavior: “I can see that you are really mad about leaving the playground. And I also respect that you are the kind of strong boy who can do the right thing even when it’s hard."
The cool thing about encouragement, as far as I’m concerned, is that it can be used anytime and with anybody! If you don’t believe me, give it a try whenever you can express genuine appreciation…”thanks for sending this month’s child support check, I’m appreciate that you make the effort to be sure it’s always on time.” “I’m sorry you aren’t satisfied with the report and want it rewritten, but I value your high standards for excellence.” Encouraging words like these usually prompt a sense of satisfaction in the listener, as well as sparking the desire to continue to be cooperative and mutually respectful.
Encouragement is especially important for the ones we are closest to, and for ourselves as well. “The kids were so wild tonight, but you kept calm and cool while you dealt with them. I am so thankful you are their Dad/Mom.” Ask for appreciation when you need it, too: “I don’t mind doing most of the cooking/car maintenance/laundry/etc., but I don’t want it taken for granted, either. I’d like to hear you say every now and then that you notice how hard I work to do it well, and that you value what I do.”
You can even prompt your children for appreciation, “Hey guys, I have just done the week’s grocery shopping, driven an hour to get you to and from that birthday party, and now I have to start fixing supper…I’m pooped! Can someone please give me some appreciation to help me keep going?!”
Most of us didn’t grow up in a home where encouragement was often expressed, and many of us have a hard time imagining talking this way. But, creating an encouraging family atmosphere of genuine acknowledgement and respectful appreciation for everyone, large and small, is one of the nicest things you can ever do for yourself and your children. Life will still be hard, and difficulties will continue to show up now and then, but encouragement enables everyone to continue to do pretty darn good with the security of feeling like a loved and valued member of the family.