Encouraging Words
October 1986

“Encouraging Words,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 72

Encouraging Words

The organist hit a wrong note, and my wandering attention was recaptured. But I had missed all of the prelude music and most of the opening song. Why did it take a mistake to get my attention?

The incident was a minor one that I would have surely forgotten had it not been repeated in our home: Our six-year-old son, Robbie, asked me to come and see how nicely he had made his bed. When I entered his bedroom, though, all I saw were the toys on the floor. The straightened bed was ignored as I started pointing out the trucks, puzzle pieces, and crayons that needed to be picked up and put away. Robbie began gathering up the things. Finally, I noticed the bed and started to praise his efforts. But he mumbled something about it “not being so great after all” and walked away, dejection in every line of his small body. Without thinking, I had destroyed his pleasure in a task well done.

How many times have I robbed my children of the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a job by focusing on the less-than-perfect details, or by criticizing something totally unrelated to that chore? Not just words, but actions, too, can undermine children’s initiative.

I have often praised a chore verbally at the same time I was redoing that very same chore—remaking the bed, dusting a missed spot, washing a dish over—because it did not meet my standards. Usually these standards were set to meet my expectations and needs, not those of the children. My words of encouragement were empty since my actions said, all too loudly, “You didn’t do it right. Watch me and see how it should be done.” Although the child would listen to my instructions and perhaps even follow them, the enthusiasm and sense of self-direction were gone. The task then became regimented, with me as the “drill sergeant”—an unpleasant role for a mother.

Changing has not been easy. I have bitten my tongue many times when a job didn’t fully please me. Finding a point to honestly praise on some tasks demands real ingenuity and creativity. But, as I consciously look for praiseworthy points, I find more than I ever thought possible.

As my attitude and behavior have changed, the children have become more willing to be responsible for their jobs. Perhaps, for the first time, they feel that their work is truly theirs, rather than mine. And along with their increased sense of responsibility has come greater pride in their work and greater skill in their tasks.—Jane McBride Choate, Loveland, Colorado

Illustrated by Beth Maryon Whittaker