Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Nine tenths of education is encouragement." - Anatole France

As the parent of four children, there are certain counterpoints (or tensions) that I feel I am balancing as I work to help my children:  structure and freedom, play and self-discipline, being outward-looking and having an inward focus....

I am inclined to think that most people would say that the counterpoint to encouragement is punishment, but I don't agree. For me, punishment seems to be a short-cut, a way of simplifying and avoiding the longer discussions that would understand why something happened and then would allow (and help the child deal navigate) the natural consequences of their behavior or action. Punishment feels like it's a way of soothing the frustration or anger of the adult more than helping the growth of the child--a frustration and anger that usually indicate something is amiss with the adult, actually, and not the child.

The counterpoint to encouragement, for me, is modeling. My ultimate goal is influencing the child while respecting his or her agency, and encouragement is a huge part of that. True encouragement, not exaggerated praising. "You're capable; I'm confident you can figure this out." The counterpoint to me is not punishment, but in part the absence of verbal encouragement; or more directly, not speaking encouragement, but showing through my own actions that one can learn and improve, that one can face difficulties and challenges. There are times (many) for encouragement, and there are times when modeling is a more powerful lesson.

I remember, with clarity, moments when someone has said a single encouraging sentence to me that I will remember the rest of my life. I also remember, with equal clarity, the way in which watching how someone else lives their life--without them saying anything or attempting to draw a lesson for me--changed how I have thought about my own potential. It's easy to speak words, and their effects are usually immediate; it's much harder to live the principles, and the lessons that we teach through modeling often take longer to manifest themselves.  

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