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From the time your baby is born, you’ll spend a significant amount of time documenting their “firsts.” The first time they sit up by themselves, the first time they say “Mom” and the first time they point out the color purple or use the toilet by themselves. These little milestones are incredibly special to share with your partner and your child, creating those irreplaceable memories you’ll both look back on one day.

It’s important to acknowledge these accomplishments, big and small, to further show your child how much they’re loved and appreciated. But what is the best way to do that? How do you provide positive encouragement without coddling your kids?

A simple “Yay! with a clap and a smile can work wonders when your child is very young. Seeing the expression on your face and learning to recognize the tone of your voice helps give them the confidence to keep trying what they’re doing, whether it’s holding their own bottle or crawling. Tell them you think they’re amazing, strong, smart and powerful — because children are so perceptive, they’ll pick up on more than you think.

As they get older, you can move on to more physical forms of encouragement such as special outings for bigger accomplishments or sticker boards for smaller daily wins. For example, when they first use their training potty on their own, celebrate by taking the whole family out for ice cream to really let them see what a big deal it is and that they don’t need to be scared but excited! After that, every time they use the “big kid potty,” add a sticker to the board and every so many stickers reward them in a different way. Maybe make their favorite meal for dinner or let them choose a new book from the store. But what’s important here is to emphasize that these rewards come from effort and tell them how proud you are of them and that you believe in them.

Providing rewards like food or small gifts can seem like a slippery slope, and it can be. As they age, they need to be taught the importance of working hard to achieve a goal and that winning isn’t the most important thing. They don’t have to be the best, just their best, so let them know.

Another time to consider your words and the type of encouragement you’re providing is when you have to discipline your kids, correct them as part of the learning process or just ask for a little peace and quiet. Here some strategies to keep in mind for these additional situations:

  • Allow them to express their emotions (cry) without being scolded for it, but don’t encourage tantrums.
  • Suggest a better way to do something.
  • Don’t put them down by labeling them (mean, sloppy, rude, etc.) or comparing them to their friends, cousins, siblings, etc.
  • Never threaten them to scare them.
  • Applaud their efforts to rectify the situation.
  • Offer a solution for good behavior as a way to “reason” with them, such as a proposed activity if they cooperate.
  • Explain yourself and your frustrations so they understand.
  • Try not to yell but lower your voice and speak slowly.

Remembering these things can help you keep your language positive no matter how frustrated you feel. Getting down on their level — literally — and communicating with them will help them understand what you need and the impact of their actions.

Last but not least, cuddling your child and telling them they’re loved and cherished as often as possible will help them develop into a confident individual years down the line. Choosing your words and finding the right forms of rewards can help you provide positive encouragement in a number of ways each day.

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