Enlightenment can sometimes come from the most unexpected places. I was in an X-ray center waiting for my husband to be seen when I picked up a “Women’s Day” magazine to pass the time. It was a special copy from June 2011 focused on issues dealing with men.
Perusing it casually, I came across an article titled “How to raise a good man – What moms can do to bring up a son with character.” I thought, I’m long past raising my two sons, who are 47 and 44 years old, but I began to read the article anyway.
The author, Laura Flynn McCarthy, selected five specific issues on which to focus: No. 1. Give him a hand at managing his emotions; No. 2. Teach empathy; No. 3. Strengthen his sense of self; No. 4. Instill respect for others; and No. 5. Show affection.
But what intrigued me about the article is that after defining each issue in a very brief paragraph, she followed with another set of paragraphs titled “What you can do.” The paragraphs of advice following each issue were clear, accessible and very practical.
One in particular caught my attention. In order to strengthen a child’s sense of self she quoted Shari Young Kuchenbecker, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Kuchenbecker suggested that parents “praise the child’s efforts rather than talents. Young kids feel more accomplished and better able to handle challenges when they’re praised for how they do a task, ‘you worked hard,’ and for completing it, ‘good job getting that done,’ rather than when they hear general kudos like I’m proud of you.”
I’m guilty of using that “I’m proud of you” phrase often with both my children and grandchildren, without an explanation of what it is that generated the pride. Speaking with my daughter Amy today on the phone, I mentioned the article because she and her husband are busy raising two young daughters, 3 and 5 years old, and I thought Kuchenbecker’s advice might be helpful. She agreed and said she would try to implement it that night when she got home from work.
Later in the evening, she called to share the results of her efforts – the smiles she received from the kids when she was more specific about what they were doing that was good. And amazingly, I found myself using this new learning tool, as a parent, when I spontaneously said, “Amy, you’re so open to learning about how to be the best parent you can be. I’m really proud of your willingness to trying new things.”
She and I both laughed when we realized that I was being the ever-learning parent, experimenting with new techniques for encouraging my children. The realization crystallized the fact that as parents, we are never finished with our jobs. I have now learned how to be more specific in my kudos in order to strengthen my children’s, my husband’s and all of my friends’ sense of self. At the age of 73, I’m still learning – and it feels good.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at JudyandOz@tampabay.rr.com. She is author of the book “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”