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Encouragement - The way out of discouragement

Encouragement of children | ©: ehrenberg-bilder - Fotolia

By far the most efficient way in the educational and psychological work is encouragement. It is a force to get people moving toward proactive and positive changes in their own thoughts, feelings and experiences. Not only is this the primary task of educators and psychologists, but especially that of the parents. You must encourage your children to live independently. To achieve this, it is important to find out how their kids can be motivated and then doing just that. After all, encouragement is only what we perceived as encouraging. This can be done in very different ways. Any signs of attention and interest of a child can be interpreted as a sign of encouragement. Those situations could be inclusion into a new community, assisting with a complicated and challenging task or even the honest and well-intentioned compliment can have a strong, encouraging effect. Even simple things like a friendly smile, verbal or rhetorical consent and mutual are factors of encouragement. Whenever someone feels a little better and stronger than before through an act or statement by somebody else, this can been seen as an encouraging gesture.

However, for an encouragement to be received as such, it has to be honest and authentic without coming across as (another) empty promise. The reality is that people have a very good gut instinct to distinguish if something is said with honesty and meant by the person or if it is just a meaningless statement. If someone throws compliments around just for the sake of it, after a short time, they will lose their effect. As you can see, this has really nothing to do with the right technique or any tricks, but with sincere respect for our fellow human beings. If the inner attitude does not match the outer, then in many cases every encouragement will have little effect. To encourage other people acceptance is essential. However, respect for the opinions, interests and feelings of others is just as important. This is the only way we can trigger a really invigorating feeling of courage in other people. Only with honest intentioned and fortifying statements we are able to encourage our fellow human beings and therefore encouraging them to make the uttermost best of their lives. However, before we encourage, we need to how not to discourage.

How we discourage our fellow man

There are a few things that we should internalize on how not to discourage our friends, protégés and all other people. It is important to understand which behaviour is perceived as discouragement, so that we, not even unconsciously, engage in the discouraging behaviour. Many people love to criticize because it makes them feel better. The reason is that when you criticise someone else it is easier to sweep your own mistakes under the carpet. Those are the kind of people who consciously go looking for mistakes in other people so they don’t feel as bad about their own faults. This is not an evil-intentioned behaviour. It’s more comparing oneself with others and to understand that my own misadventures are not the exception and that others are not perfect either. Only then, when we see this behaviour in ourselves can we start working on it. We do not have to say everything we think. We can begin to keep criticism and harsh words to ourselves. It will do a lot of good to other people. Socrates offers us the model of the 3 sieves or 3 filters if you want. He suggests before you say anything, your words have to pass the 3 sieves. The first is truth, the second goodness and the third is necessity. If a statement is neither true, good nor necessary, chances are your words are most likely incriminating and might not necessarily be of value. Of course, this model does not cover everything, but it's a nice way to gain awareness about your own statements.

If we neither pay respect or acceptance to other people, we are running the risk to discourage those around us. What absolutely kills encouragement are disappointments, insults, criticism, and especially lack of acceptance and disrespect. With criticism, I don’t mean honest and constructive feedback. What I mean is exaggerated and absurd criticism. When it comes to criticism, the same 3 sieves apply. You need to weigh up whether the truth really has to be said. Consider, do you want to criticize to annoy and punish or to help and improve? The crucial issues here is your intention. If your criticism is not going to be helpful, then your aim is to annoy and belittle the person concerned. And to no surprise the person has received it just the way you intended. Of course, the reason for this behaviour is often your own frustration over the person’s actions. However, this is only a small consolation for a pretty high price to pay. All you are doing is to discourage an already discouraged person. In this case I suggest, you assume responsibility and admit that you carry at least half of the blame. Blame in a sense, that life for this person is now a little harder because of my actions. This afterthought could be helpful to remember. Maybe one day when you are annoyed or angry, just for once, say nothing. This, of course, is not a strategy to encourage, but at least it is not discouraging either.

Thoughts about our fellow human and the fear of not being good enough

Another way to enforce discouragement of our fellow men are our personal thoughts. First that seems a little paradox. However, our negative thoughts about others do contribute to their discouragement. Everything we do undergoes a three-part cycle. First, we think something negative. Based on that, we experience a negative feeling, and, more often than not, we also act on this feeling. If we constantly think negatively about a particular person, we soon get bad feelings about him. Subsequently, our behaviour towards this person, often only subconsciously, becomes negative as well. This, however, does not mean that you never ever should be thinking about others in a negative way. What I mean here is, to reduce your negative thoughts and your negative focus on that particular person. It is needless to say that the same thing applies when talking negatively about others. Above all, don’t do it, if they are in the room with you. Backbiting reinforces more of this negative behaviour towards the person then it helps you to air your frustration. The motto, therefore, should be, letting go and accepting others just the way they are. There is one thing we all have in common: it is the fear of not being enough. We all want to be significant and be appreciated for it.

This deep-rooted fear of not being enough consistently runs through all cultures. It is highly likely that we are born with this fear. If somebody is constantly criticized, scolded and nagged, this speaks exactly to this particular fear within us. The critical aspect here is, the longer we hear and listen to the criticism of others the more likely we are to believe it as well. Particular in a young age. Children and youth, who are still in the process of developing a strong personality believe what they hear. Developing a strong personality, therefore, can become extremely difficult for those teens. Absurd and evil-intentioned criticism only amplifies self-doubt and leads to low self-confidence. In turn, by every next attempt the young person will feel even more distraught. The thought pattern of the young person is, if it doesn’t work this time, this is it. This is the confirmation that I am not good enough. A vicious circle just began. Whether we are encouraged or discouraged after the first attempt of something new, largely depends on whether we had fun or gave up immediately. Everybody contributes with an encouraging and discouraging behaviour. If every failure for the discouraged person instantly means another confirmation of not being good enough this feeling multiplies. Imagine, someone else now joins in, wielding useless criticism or alike; giving up is almost inevitable.

Encouragement: Try it and give not up
Try it and give not up

The beginning is crucial

Encouragements and discouragements have a huge influence on the course of a person’s life. Once, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother was interviewed and questioned about the childhood of young Arnold. Amongst other things the woman said, no matter how unrealistic her son’s the goals were, she would always encourage him to go for it. As most of you will know, Arnold Schwarzenegger was not only a bodybuilding champion and a movie star, he also achieved to become Governor of California. This example demonstrates how important the circumstances of the family are. Some families, indeed, are so bad, that it is almost impossible for the young person to develop a healthy and strong personality. In this case, this has not so much to do with the love and care the child receives but with the role models in its immediate environment. It is almost impossible for parents to motivate and encourage their children when they are themselves quite discouraged. Even if they try really hard and manage somehow, the outcome for the child is still questionable. Children learn by what they see, by imitating their parents. If what they see is a discouraged behaviour, it is most likely that they will take this on board as well. By the time they enter school, if they still have a sense of independence, they will be reprimanded and using penalties they are “clipped” to fit in. This is followed by constant evaluation and grades. If they can’t handle the “chalk and talk curriculum”, once again they will lose. As if that wasn’t enough, research found, that at the beginning of the year, teachers create a certain image of each child and stick to it. They stick to it so badly that it is almost impossible for them to change it further down the track. Once a discouraged student is classified as such, the teacher might still see him as lazy even the student managed to change and shows more courage now. This is a system, which, with the tools of power and pressure, turns excited young minds with a bold nature into miserable and fearful creatures. The most fundamental reasons for this to happen you find mainly in our educational and schooling system. It’s crucial, already at a young age, to take countermeasures. This natural process, of courageous going through life, can very well be revived in a youth group with the “right” youth worker.

Tips for an encouraging climate in youth groups

Encouragement and daring
Encouragement and daring

If children and adolescents in their family homes, or at school, experience no encouragement, or even worse, experience only discouragements, it will be difficult for a youth worker to encourage these through youth and social work. It is like a drop in the ocean - but still there is a chance. – In the youth group, for once, children and young people are out of the school stress, out of the "parent stress" or the "exhausting family environment". A different environment with different opportunities are the youth worker’s strengths. Sometimes youth workers are faced with more than a decade of discouragement. In this situation, it is not easy to charter a somewhat better direction for the children. To still achieve under such unfavourable circumstances, it is important for the educator or youth worker to have a strong and well-established personality. Otherwise almost always, even the best effort will be fruitless. It is crucial to avoid the errors mentioned above: so do not criticize, evaluate or belittle. Instead play down little mishaps and encourage the child again.

To establish a safe climate in a youth group, acceptance and respect for each other are probably the most essential factor. All children need to accept one another. That is also true for the group leaders. Every child needs to experience acceptance. It is important not to focus on the mistakes and weaknesses but on their strengths. This does not mean that weaknesses cannot be mended. However, the main focus should always remain on their strengths. If there are identified weaknesses in important emotional areas, these should be addressed. After all, who is emotionally weak does have it very difficult in life. Nonetheless, even emotionally weaker children deserve tolerance and respect. However, if you observe that those children, despite best effort, still are treated inappropriately or disrespectfully, you must intervene.

Under any circumstances, you have to prevent an exclusion of the child from the group. It is unacceptable for children to insult or even hurt each other. In particular, the outsider needs to experience that their tormentors will be brought to justice. This is crucial for the child to see in order to re-build trust. However, it is also critical that the children are taught assertiveness and not to allow others to hurt them. Both, the bullies as well the outsider kid has to be spoken to individually. It is important to listen carefully, to show interest and at least a little understanding even for inappropriate behaviour. True to the principle: Only those who understand me, I shall listen to. If the behaviour cannot be changed after all, a temporary barring should be considered. The outsider kid needs advice and help to make him realize how to defend himself.

In any youth group, regular discussions about fundamental behaviour within the group should also be conducted. This has to be done in the appropriate framework and according to age. Up for discussion should be things like how to deal with each other as well as prejudices and thoughts of the children. Only when you talk to the children, problems can be identified and solved.

Tips for encouragement

The errors which were done elsewhere through criticism, nagging scolding and ongoing pressure for higher performance only mean that the child or young person is becoming less self-confidence. Any confidence is literally taken away from them. All he has left is to capitulate.

  • "What’s the point?”
  • "I can’t get it right ever."
  • "I just can’t do that."

Feelings of not being good enough, not being accepted by others are taking hold. Subsequently the young person might feel

  • Excluded
  • Incompetent
  • Not good enough

Accordingly, the young person continues to withdraw to avoid further discouragement. Ultimately the fear of failure takes hold. It is important that those discouraging experiences are not further reinforced from the outside”.

Tips for your group work

  • Stay tuned to the task: When a child gives up very quickly, for example when crafting, or at the game night, it should be encouraged to stick to it and to give it another go. Then, when the first small success is visible, encourage the child. If it could come that far it can do the rest as well. It is always better to give the child small tasks where it relatively quickly can see the success, then overwhelming it with too much.

  • Nobody is perfect: Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses. It would be bad if we attempted to be perfect in each and every discipline and nothing but being on top would do. Such an attitude does not work for anybody and in a way that is good. We need to learn to accept ourselves with all our strengths and weaknesses and we must convey the same to our children and young people. There is nothing worse than the feeling, “I am not good enough”, and “I do not belong.” Perfectionism is off-limits and should not be encouraged. Instead: Making mistakes is okay - because only then you can learn.

  • Challenging means encouraging: We all know this scenario, if the child does not succeed the very first time, we want to step in and help. Sometimes way too quickly. Admittedly, the task is finished fast. However, the child was deprived of giving it a go, leave alone trying several times. Our intention was only good – yet, from the child we took an opportunity to try and to try again if it didn’t work straight away. The motto, therefore: don’t step in straight away. Rather encourage the child to give it another go. Maybe a little tip will help…

  • Everyone is good enough and is accepted. We mentioned this concept already further above: Nobody likes criticism, nagging and being put down. Who always criticises others or talks bad about them, is – most likely - dealing with his own problem: The fear of not being enough and being part of those who were discouraged. The youth leader should put a halt to this behaviour. No-one is to be put down just because he is not as skilled as somebody else. Respectively, the discouraged child could hold the mirror and show the offender that in reality, he is not perfect either. When the situation is right, every youth group should have discussions about the phenomena, “the need to criticize.” It gives the young persons the opportunity to examine themselves and find out about their motives to criticise. Maybe one or the other will realize, that, “in reality there are moments where I am discouraged as well.” It's much better when you help each other in the youth group and really nobody wants to be criticised either. If the youth worker can manage to establish a benevolent atmosphere of mutual acceptance and support, then half the battle is won already. In this climate, nobody needs to fear “not being enough”.

Tips for youth workers

  • No pigeonholing: As human beings we tend to put others very quickly into a box. This may give rise to categorising our children with labels such as stupid and smart, bold and discouraged, good and evil. However, this is wrong. This view of humanity is not really beneficial for young people. It only demonstrates our own lack of encouragement for others. If we now come across as someone who puts people into boxes it becomes impossible to encourage young people.

  • Talking is silver - silence is golden: Another thing we tend to do is saying something quickly. As already stated above, if you need to say something check first the 3 sieves: is it true, appropriate and necessary? There is a saying after all: Talking is silver - silence is golden! – Criticism, just for the sake of it or as a slip of words. Its hurtful and distractive force can destroy all the good work you have done in your youth group already, all the great relationships you have built.

[ © | 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work ] - 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work
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