Parents often ask me how to “motivate” their kids. They try incentives,
consequences, threats, but few try affirmation. Parents tend to shy away from affirming
their children out of fear of two perceived consequences. The first fear is parents believe
if they affirm their children they are communicating that they are approving of everything
their children are doing (and they don’t want to do that) so they don’t affirm them in
anything. The second fear is that by affirming parents believe their children will become
entitled or spoiled.
In response to the first fear, your children need to know that you like them,
believe in them, appreciate them, and are proud of them. Affirmation is the fuel on
which they run. If you do not affirm them (fuel them) they will look for affirmation
somewhere else. Affirming your children does not communicate that you approve of
everything they are doing. Be the source of their fuel- Fuel that gives them the
confidence to try something new. Fuel that shows them know you love them even if they
fail. When you affirm your children regularly, you build trust with them. That trust, in
turn, allows you to talk about things that they are doing that you are concerned about.
Without that trust you are “unsafe”, “butting into their business”, or “controlling.” I have
learned that kids need 10:1 positive to negative remarks. For every negative remark you
make you need 10 positives to off set it. That’s a lot of affirmation.
In response to the second fear, I have never met a kid who was spoiled or entitled
because his/her parents affirmed him/her regularly. Spoiled kids are usually spoiled
because their parents gave them too many material things without a proper sense of work
and sacrifice. They become entitled because they have learned they deserve things
without a cost, because parents showered them with possessions in place of a
relationship. Giving our children gifts can be a great event. It’s when we give them so
much that they don’t learn the true value of things that they can become entitled or
spoiled. Affirmation is focused on personality and character, not on materialism. You
can affirm your child even when they fail. “Son, I am so proud of you for the effort you
gave.” This affirming remark is not concerned with winning or losing. It’s focused on
the character of the son.
Once you get the hang of things, affirmation can be easy. Pointing out to your
spouse or kids regularly that you appreciate their attitude, their sacrifice, or their smile.
Make sure your lens allows you to see the positive things in others instead of seeing only
your expectations. Look to fuel those around you with the only true sustainable fuel –