Cheering Your Children On

by Amie Leavitt

How to recognize and encourage your children’s authentic accomplishments

When long-distance runners suffer from exhaustion and muscle fatigue, sometimes the only thing that keeps them pushing toward the finish line is the encouragement shouted from the sidelines: “Keep going!” “You can do it!” “We’re rooting for you!”

Likewise, children benefit greatly from enthusiastic encouragement as they strive to reach their goals.

Here are a few ways parents can cheer them on.

1. Applaud their effort.

Children need recognition during their entire journey, not just when they’ve completed a goal. If your child is learning a new piano piece, offer words of encouragement and find something about the daily plunking on the piano to compliment. That might be hard when you’ve heard the same piece 500 times, but something as simple as “I’m so proud of you for not giving up and trying so hard to learn the notes” sends the right message and encourages your child to keep trying.

2. Give genuine and specific praise.

Sometimes we tell a child, “Good job,” “You did great,” or “You’re awesome.” But it’s much more effective to give specific praise. Try saying something like, “You practiced the piano every day. I can tell that your accuracy is really improving. Great job.”

Or, “I know you all lost the game, but I’m so proud of how well you played on defense. You had two great saves in the second half. That was amazing.”

Specific praise communicates to a child that you value their efforts enough to give them your full attention and then to notice their achievements. This makes a child feel important, loved, and respected. And since your child seeks your approval in all things, specific genuine praise from you is all the more meaningful and motivating.

Also, specific praise increases the likelihood of your child coming to you for guidance when its needed. They will have learned that you hope for their success and value their achievements, and they’ll see you as someone who can point them to another personal victory.

3. Recognize small accomplishments.

Not every goal will be achieved. Sometimes we’ll fall short. But even in those instances, we should celebrate what was accomplished. Let’s say your children set a goal to keep their room clean every day for an entire week. If they were only successful five of the seven days, don’t dismiss their accomplishment as a failure and scold them because they weren’t perfect. Celebrate and acknowledge what they did do: “Five days out of seven. That’s a definite improvement. Well done.”

Criticizing them won’t inspire improved behavior. It might even spark resentment, especially if your children legitimately put forth an effort.

Responding lovingly, on the other hand, allows your children to feel good about their efforts while encouraging them to keep trying.

When they try a room-cleaning goal again and achieve it, they’ll be able to feel the inner confetti, fanfare, and fireworks that come when people accomplish what they set out to do. In other words, your gentle and loving acknowledgement of small achievements is teaching them intrinsic motivation, which they’ll need throughout their life to accomplish their goals on their own.

If your child is not putting forth effort, prayerfully seek guidance on how best to help him or her.

4. Rely on the Savior.

It’s also important to help your children realize that the greatest source of loving encouragement comes from the Savior Jesus Christ. When we experience failure, disappointment, or obstacles, the Savior provides loving comfort and peace (see John 14:16, 27) if we turn to Him. Because of His life and His infinite Atonement, He understands everything your children are going through—their efforts, challenges, successes, and feelings of disappointment.

By sharing with your children the Savior’s teachings, ministry, and example, you’ll help them rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19) in both good and challenging times.