How to Parent With Encouragement Instead of Criticism

Young beautiful mom high fives young toddler at the park. Young mother cheers with young son.

How to Parent With Encouragement Instead of Criticism

Ts a both a parent and an educator, my hope is to parent with encouragement instead of criticism. But like any parent, I’m not perfect, and I’ve been on my own journey to learn how to discipline my children without criticizing them when they make a mistake. This topic has been of particular interest to me over the years.

A fascinating article published in The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology found that children who are constantly being criticized develop a habit of avoiding looking at other people’s facial expressions—whether those people are expressing positive or negative feelings. By avoiding looking at other people, children’s ability to receive positive information and make positive social connection with others is undermined. Researchers suggest that this could lead to anxiety and depression in that child.

More and more scientific research shows how parenting and education techniques that revolve around encouragement rather than criticism can lead to a healthier self-image and positive behavior in your children. With depression, anxiety, and suicide on the rise for youth across our nation, it is more important than ever before for us to lovingly examine the ways we parent and how we talk to our children during these early childhood years.

Parenting with Encouragement Instead of Criticism

It’s helpful to consider how we might make adjustments that will improve our techniques. This can benefit our children’s mental health for years to come. Here are some ways to get started:

Examine How You Communicate

The first thing we need to do as parents, caregivers, and educators, is to honestly ask ourselves how we speak to our kiddos on a regular basis and to assess our communication style. I know that it can seem like extra work to have to slow down and cultivate mindfulness around how we communicate with our kids. But the end result is worth the effort.

I’m a mom of two toddlers myself. After a long day of changing diapers, potty training, feeding my kids, taking them to activities, folding laundry, soothing tantrums, grocery shopping, washing dishes, writing, etc., the last thing I want to do is another task. Especially one that involves self analysis. But when I consider the long-term benefits of speaking kindly to my children and improving my communication with them, it’s worth the time it takes to do some reflection and self improvement. Luckily, these adjustments can be small and are easily woven into our daily activities.

For example, try waking up tomorrow morning and having the intention that it will be a day where you consciously choose to observe how you talk to and interact with your children. You can keep a journal or use the notes app in your phone to write down a few things you notice yourself saying to them. Or, simply make a mental note if that works better for you. You can also try this activity with a friend, family member, or spouse, so that you can hold one another accountable. Check in with yourself or your accountability partner at the end of day.

Be gentle with yourself—it’s okay to make mistakes as a parent. If you don’t like how you’re talking to your kids, remember to celebrate the fact that you are cultivating self-awareness and are willing to make positive changes. That’s huge!

Improve How You Talk to Yourself (and Your Kids)

Some days I wake up and for whatever reason, “stinkin’ thinkin’”—or negative self talk—seems to be the order of the day. It’s not by choice, and it’s certainly not what I want for myself. When we speak to ourselves harshly, this will often translate to how we talk to everyone around us. So what do we do? We need to first be aware of it, and secondly, improve the way we speak to ourselves.

I worked with an excellent therapist five years ago and learned how to improve the way I talk to myself. This has had a very positive effect on my self esteem. It has also helped me to communicate better with others. One technique I learned was to use a hand-held recorder and record mantras and prayers that are uplifting and inspirational. Some are prayers I made up; others are from the Bible/spiritual teachings, online blogs and articles, or books I’m reading. Saying positive things to myself helps me to re-wire the negative thinking.

Then, first thing in the morning in front of the mirror, when I’m driving, or before I go to bed, I will play the recorder and repeat back what my own voice has said. (I leave recorded silence between mantras so there is space for me to repeat back what I heard myself say in the recording). If I’m having a hectic day, I can turn on my recorder and the act of saying positive things out loud really helps to re-wire my brain and reset my mood.

I have seen the positive ripple effect firsthand. My daughters love it when I do this, particularly when we’re in the car. “You’re happy, Mom!” my older toddler will say gleefully as I turn on the recorder and speak. Their moods get lightened and we all feel better.

This technique is particularly useful as a mom. Practicing the technique of positive self-talk is like strengthening your muscles at the gym. You have to practice it to get stronger. The more you speak positive words to yourself, the more naturally you pass those encouraging words on to your children.

Break the Cycle of Criticism

Parenting with encouragement instead of criticism really is a practice in breaking bad habits or generational cycles of bad habits. When you take the time to notice how you’re talking to your kids, you may find that there is a negative cycle that has gotten ingrained in your everyday patterns of communicating. In some cases, criticism and punishment lead to defiance, secretiveness, and withdrawal in your child. As a parent, you may feel even more disapproving when this happens, and then ramp up your criticism as a result. This creates an unhealthy cycle. Perhaps one you experienced as a child yourself. What’s the solution?

Break the cycle. Stop the criticism. The next time you find yourself engaged in conflict with your child (whether they are throwing a tantrum, told a lie, broke your rules, etc.) try to lovingly detach. Then try to get curious about the situation instead of labeling your child or judging them right away. Bite your tongue if you feel like you are about to say something critical or harsh. Practice walking away or taking deep breaths instead.

Let your curiousness allow you to become an observer. And to help you cultivate patience and active listening skills. Try to listen to what they have to say and how they are feeling. By doing this, you are strengthening your muscles of self-control, patience, and compassion. If you (or they) are too elevated or upset to do this, then simply take a break from each other. Putting space between yourself and a hysterical or defiant toddler or crying baby can be healthy as long as the child is safe.

This can mean putting your toddler in a safe space (such as their crib, pack and play, etc.). Or asking your child to go to their room (if they are a bit older). Or safely separating for a few minutes while you both calm down. Once you are able to be alone, practice some slow breaths and journal about how you’re feeling. Or listen to calming music, pray, or call a friend/supportive person/accountability partner. All of these activities are excellent examples of you taking care of yourself so that you can best care for those around you.

Cultivate Time and Space for Positive Interactions

Make intentional time and space for interacting in ways that are playful, pressure-free, joyful, humorous, light-hearted, and open-ended. All too often we find ourselves caught up in activities and rushing from one thing to another. Take time to open up space that is unstructured.

Some examples are:

  • Set aside a half a day (or a whole day if you can) where there is nothing scheduled. This may be a weekend day, a day that you have no work, or your child has no daycare/school. This allows you to have less stress and pressure on your shoulders. This pressure-free time enables interactions and experiences to arise organically. You may find yourself taking your baby to the park, heading to a science museum with your toddlers, or making a fort in the living room and hanging out under the blankets. All of these are great times to practice speaking respectfully and encouragingly to your child while playing and learning together.
  • Car rides. When you are driving, consider making it a time to practice encouragement and to speak praise over your youngster. If you need to discipline your child, start with a positive point before following with the disciplinary word. For example, if you have two children in the backseat and one is trying to take a toy away from their sibling, say, “(Name), you did a great job sharing your toys yesterday! But right now (your sibling) is playing with that. Stop taking (Sibling’s) toy and keep your hands to yourself. Would you like another toy to hold, instead?” If they cooperate, be sure to praise their action, i.e.: “Thank you for giving his toy back. You are a good listener!”
  • Sharing a meal together. Eat breakfast or dinner together without having to be somewhere afterwards (or leave enough time so that the experience does not feel rushed). This will open up space for you and your family members to tell stories, compliment each other, and laugh together. Practicing positive talk strengthens everyone’s ability to do more of it.
  • Take your little one to the library. Carve out an hour or more to interact one-on-one with your child at a library. Most public libraries nowadays have a children’s section. You can read to your little one, play with toys, and otherwise spend time together. Compliment the things they do and encouraging them to read, play, say hello to new friends, etc. They will love hearing your voice and the encouraging tones of voice you use while talking to them.
  • Spend fifteen minutes together (or more) before bed. Make time to connect without screens before going to bed. This may look like giving your kiddo a bath, reading a story together in bed, cuddling your toddler or baby in a rocking chair, singing to them, or praising your child for things they did during the day.

Parenting with encouragement provides a strong foundation for growing your child’s self-esteem, nurturing healthy relationships with others, and building a solid social-emotional foundation for personal development. Taken together, these approaches to communicating more effectively using encouragement instead of criticism can benefit your child for a lifetime to come.

About the Author /

Kristen v.H. Middleton is a former school teacher & administrator turned stay-at-home-mom. She lives with her husband and children in eastern Washington.

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Here are five things I wish I had known about potty training before I jumped into it with my then two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Because, if I had known these things, I think I would have been a bit more laid back about the whole thing! {Click 🔗 in bio to continue reading!⁠}⁠
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If you are there now or about to enter this stage, it’s a yummy, delicious, snuggly stage. But for me, it has always been one of the harder ones, every time I go through it. So I see and feel you, mama! It’s physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. Hold tight, though, because it doesn’t last forever.⁠
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5️⃣ Paternity leave! If you have it TAKE IT. The early stages of a child's life are not just for moms to enjoy. I know as men making the money especially after having a baby it's hard, but trust me. You can always make money but there are no instant replays in life. It doesn't make you more of a man to not take the leave. It's equally as important that you as a Dad get to be a part of the early development of your child. ⁠
If someone needs this info tag them ❤️⁠
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Absolutely love these tips from @chroniclesofdaddy. 🙌
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1️⃣ Look for signs of readiness:⁠
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Potty training is much quicker if your child is showing the above signs, but you can start before this.⁠
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2️⃣ What you will need to buy:⁠
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3️⃣ Getting yourself and your child prepared:⁠
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- Sit your child on the potty at every diaper change, first thing in the morning and just before bed to get them used to sitting on the toilet.⁠
- Teach your child the correct vocabulary or signs needed to communicate when they need to go potty.⁠
- Make sure you have plenty of spare clothes.⁠
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4️⃣ Let's get toilet trained:⁠
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- Talk to them about using the toilet and communicating when they need to pee or poo. You can sit them on the toilet at this point if you wish.⁠
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(Continue reading in the comments!)
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You are the reason I get up each morning.⁠
Even though my eyelids are as heavy as a five-ton truck.⁠
Even though all I want is to sleep in, a coffee and breakfast in bed.⁠
You are more important.⁠
You need me.⁠
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For you, I will always love it.⁠
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Even though I know it won't change anything.⁠
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You are the reason I am now filled with gratitude.⁠
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You are the reason that my heart is full.⁠
Even though I am grateful for our life before you.⁠
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You are my reason." ❤️ Words by @hangingwiththeheaphys 💕⁠
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Pretty sure my mouth and nose are covered too. 😑😂⁠
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I am a big advocate for breastfeeding. There are s I am a big advocate for breastfeeding. There are so many AMAZING benefits for the mother and child. But you know what I am an even bigger advocate for? A mother's well-being -- her physical, emotional, and mental health!!⁠
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Sometimes we make plans and God laughs. Some of us plan to breastfeed our babies for 3 months, 6 months, a year, 2 years. Some of us meet our goals and some of us don't. (🙋‍♀️ My goal was to reach a year and made it 7 months.) Breastfeeding can be a lot more challenging than many of us expect. There can be complications along the way, the baby could have allergies, and sometimes breastfeeding or pumping can take an immense toll on a mother's mental health.⁠
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It is my firm belief that we must care for and support the new mother just as much as we care for and support the new child. 💕 While I feel there is so much value in breast milk, in my opinion, if it compromises the health of the mother, it is not worth it. As long as the baby is being fed, cared for, and loved, that is all that matters. And for the mother to grow and thrive in her new role as a parent to continue caring for her child, she needs to do what she feels is best for herself and her family. Sometimes that is not breastfeeding or pumping.⁠
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No matter your feeding experience or preference, you are a good mother. Whether your choice was made by you or made for you, you must do what is right for you and your baby. Your health (mentally, physically, emotionally) matters. ❤️
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Being a full-time, stay-at-home mom of small children is a lot like being the CEO of a corporation. But without anyone working under you and without receiving payment for your efforts. Kinda crazy when you think of it like that, huh?⁠
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I smile as I write this, but that feeling was sometimes true for me. Of course, there are different ways to frame our choices as mothers. Such as looking at stay-at-home-motherhood through the lens of sheer fulfillment that comes from spending quality time with your kids and teaching them the ways of life. For me, what I eventually realized after my second child was born was that I needed to create a lifestyle that filled in the gaps where I felt something was missing. Specifically, I needed someone to help me manage my kids and my household. And I needed to be earning some money myself.⁠ {Click 🔗 in bio to continue reading this mom's story!⁠}⁠
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Article by: @kristen_vhmiddleton⁠
📷: @thegoddessher⁠
CC: @herholisticpath
Pretty much what summer is going to be like. 🤦‍♀️😑⁠
📷: @realamericandadass
Chick Picks: Best Baby Swings and Baby Bouncers⁠ Chick Picks: Best Baby Swings and Baby Bouncers⁠ 👶⁠
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In the womb, babies love when you move and walk around because it rocks them to sleep. 🤰💤 When they are born into a cold and bright world, all of that change is a shock to the system! 😱 This is why babies love being cuddled and rocked by you. Your warmth, your scent, and that motion calms them and makes them feel right at home. However, it's unrealistic to think that any parent can constantly rock and bounce their baby. Your arms, shoulders, and upper back will ache! 😫 This is why baby swings and baby bouncers are a thing and why many parents swear by them. 👍 But what are the best baby swings and baby bouncers on the market? 🤔 We are sharing our favorites -- also known as our Chick Picks! -- so that you can look at the best ones and determine which is the right one for your baby. 😍 {Click 🔗 in bio to continue reading!⁠}⁠
📷: @_aalina