A Day of Encouragement was first proclaimed in 2007 by the governor of Arkansas. This first observance was initiated by the Encouragement Foundation at Harding University. At a later date, President George W. Bush officially signed a document declaring September 12 to be our National Day of Encouragement. But like other national days such as National Milkshake Day, National Video Game Day, which are also observed on September 12, National Day of Encouragement hasn’t received much attention.

We Need It, But Do We Know How to Define Encouragement?

Surely in this year of 2016, we can agree that we all would like to receive more encouragement and that what the world definitely needs now is . . .  a huge dose of encouragement; but if you have the desire to encourage someone, do you know exactly how to do that? We might be able to identify times when we have felt encouraged by someone else, but can you explain exactly why or how an action or statement is encouraging? Austrian Psychiatrist, Rudolph Dreikurs is famous for saying, “A child needs encouragement as a plant needs water.” How is that true and what exactly is encouragement?

I regularly teach the concept of encouragement in my work as a Positive Discipline Trainer. The Parenting the Positive Discipline Way curriculum has several experiential activities that help parents more deeply understand this idea of encouragement – what it is and what it is not. Because I can’t take you through the activities in this blog post, instead I’ll share some helpful web resources to help you more deeply understand the idea of encouragement.

How Encouraging Words are Different from Praise

Many parents equate encouraging statements with heaping on tons of praise such as, “You’re great! You’re awesome” but those declarations don’t exactly align with what Positive Discipline and Carol Dweck have to say about encouragement.

In her blog post entitled, “Encouragement: What Does It Mean and How Is It Done?” Positive Discipline author, Jane Nelsen writes, “Encouragement is helping your children develop courage—courage to grow and develop into the people they want to be—to feel capable, to be resilient, to enjoy life, to be happy, contributing members of society, and, as Dreikurs said, ‘To have the courage to be imperfect,’ to feel free to make mistakes and to learn from them.” Look over this list of “praising statements” and “encouraging statements” and see if you can see or feel the difference between the two approaches.

Carol Dweck’s research illustrates that praising kids for “being smart” often backfires and prevents kids from taking new risks to learn more. Instead, she suggests that parents focus their comments around the life skill of effort, persistence and strategies used to learn a skill or task – “You tried different strategies and you figured out how to solve the problem” is one example in a US News and World Report article about Dweck’s work.

So, as one of the dictionary definitions suggests, encouragement “inspires with courage” and helps “spur on” others. Encouragement helps others keep going. It helps empower people to try again if they failed or celebrate an accomplishment or small step. Encouragement isn’t a judgement statement that you “like” or “love” something. Here are a few examples of encouraging statements.

  • “You sure worked hard on that goal and you did it!”
  • “Wow, you peed in the potty! I’m excited for you. How do you feel?”
  • “You didn’t make the grade that you wanted. I can see on your face that you’re disappointed. What would help you right now?”
  • “It’s okay to make mistakes and everyone makes them.”

As you might notice in the statements above, encouragement usually involves emotional attunement – attuning to another person’s feelings and efforts.

Encouragement Can Also Be Actions

Encouragement isn’t just about words alone. Many simple actions we do can offer encouragement to others.

  • A hug
  • Attending a child or friend’s sporting event or musical performance
  • Spending quality time together – having fun
  • Listening (without judgment) to another person share their feelings
  • Sending a card in the mail for no reason
  • Holding a door open for someone    Learn more>>

How Will You Be Encouraging to Others?

Encouragement can look and sound like a lot of different things. Use your own style and way of communicating to offer encouragement to others. You probably have your favorite ways of encouraging others. The best way to encourage others is from a place of feeling genuinely “you” while you do it. So I hope you will take the idea of encouragement and plan to do at least one encouraging thing this week for someone that you care for. Let’s start an encouragement epidemic!


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