“Stand up straight! Pull up your socks! Stop making so much noise! Stop! You are incorrigible! Come here! Don’t go over there! Don’t touch that! Be careful!” Such a litany of orders repeated all day long is enough to tire even the greatest good will. Doubtless, parents have to warn, correct, and admonish their children. But it is important to encourage them just as much and even more, by knowing how to congratulate them wisely. Which approach will be the more stimulating: “You better watch out if you don’t pass next time!” or, “You really are capable of passing if you put your mind to it; I’m sure I could be pleased with you”?
Optimism is a great quality in an educator. It enables him to see the child’s aptitudes (every child has some), and to hope for his progress despite the difficulties, without becoming discouraged at the length of the task. It enkindles in the child the self-confidence necessary for any undertaking.
Alan is disorderly, and his room is never clean; dirty socks are lying around in the midst of his Playmobiles. Are we to yell at him that he is disorderly and good for nothing and that we have already told him a hundred times to pick up his things? No, of course not! That would only anchor the idea that he will never change. First we have to set a simple, concrete, and accessible objective for him. Success on this one objective will be an encouragement for him to progress on to something more difficult. “In order to learn to keep your room tidy, you will make the effort of putting your clothes away every evening; it isn’t hard, you are capable of doing it and I will help you to remember.” And for a fairly long period of time (a month, a trimester...), we help him to make this effort and close our eyes to all the rest that will come all in good time. “Good job, you see you are capable of being orderly, for a whole week now you have remembered to put away your clothes all by yourself without me telling you to; very good. Now that you know how to put your clothes away, you can start doing the same with your books when you’ve finished your homework; Papa will build you a bookshelf so it will be easier.”
Oh, a mother’s smile of encouragement: the wonders it can work! “Mom believes in me, she thinks I can do it, so it must be true; I am not going to let her down.” “Very good, my son, good job, I knew you could do it, keep going.” In such a climate of encouragement and tenderness, children’s souls blossom.
We must encourage the effort without waiting for success, like our Father in Heaven who takes our good will into account despite our failures in the work of our sanctification. Nine-year-old Alice took the initiative of vacuuming all by herself; sure, she forgot to vacuum behind the door and under the furniture, but the essential is that she thought of helping out, and that is what we have to encourage; we will teach her to clean properly all in good time. “Thank you, dear, for helping me with the housework, it is such a big help.”
It is especially important to believe in the child’s capacities if he has a timid, fearful, or lethargic temperament. Such children need to acquire self-confidence little by little through small, easy and repeated victories and much encouragement. If on the other hand they are constantly being corrected and reprimanded, they lose their composure and stop making any efforts, convinced that they are useless.
But there are also those who have vain temperaments, and are easily satisfied with themselves, or rich natures that easily succeed in whatever they undertake. With them, encouragement should be carefully measured, in order not to flatter their pride. Joseph is very good at school and gets good grades without much effort: “Papa, I got an 85 in math!” “Yes, but without even trying; if you had applied yourself, you could have gotten a 100...” For children like this, it is the supernatural intention, the acquisition of virtues, especially humility, that we must encourage. “Joseph, go learn your lessons.” “I don’t need to; I already know them.” “Well, if you don’t need to work on your homework, could you help your little brother with his? God gave you gifts so that you could help others, not so you could take advantage of them just for yourself.” A system that gives all the children in the family the same exact sum of money for every good grade over 75, while it seems fair, is not always in keeping with justice. It doesn’t take into account the different teachers’ ways of grading and more importantly the differences between the children: Joseph is brilliant and fills his pockets with money easily, whereas his little brother, who is less gifted even though he really applies himself, earns nothing and could easily become jealous.
Can we give money to children when they succeed, as an encouragement? Rewarding an important effort in this way can be a way of helping them to realize that money does not grow on trees but has to be earned with the sweat of one’s brow. But rewarding them in this way should not be a habit, as it could encourage a tendency to avarice and greed. A child should first make efforts in order to please Jesus and to please his parents. The true reward, the reward that counts, is his parents’ smile.
Let us know how to rejoice with our children at the progress they make and render justice for their efforts, as does our Father in Heaven, who takes into account even a glass of water given in His name.