Okay, by now your healthy paranoia is in full bloom. You are probably saying, “I’ve been praising my children their whole lives! I had no idea that my efforts to make them feel better could be making them feel bad!” Whoa! Take it easy. First, if the worst thing you ever do in parenting is to praise rather than


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encourage, you still get a gold star. Remember, we are looking at more effective and less effective methods, not right and wrong. Praise isn’t bad, it’s just less effective at building self-esteem than descriptive encouragement and has potential negative side effects.

Knowing the pitfalls of praise, there will still be times when praise is natural and necessary. Praise can be encouraging, depending on the following factors:4

  • We are accepting of our children, despite their behavior.
  • We can be proud of our children just because of who they are.
  • Our genuine intent is to encourage rather than control.
  • Children are not expecting or demanding praise to get attention.
  • Children are not dependent on other’s opinions for their self-worth.

Use praise with encouragement, not as a tool by itself. If you’re feeling genuinely enthusiastic and find yourself exclaiming “Good!” don’t feel guilty. Just follow it up with an encouraging, descriptive statement so the child knows why it was good. 

 To  tell  whether our statements  are  praise  or encouragement,  ask:

    • Am I inspiring self-evaluation or dependency on others’ opinions?
    • Am I being respectful or patronizing?
    • Can I see their point of view or only my own?
    • Would I make this comment to a friend? 



Raising your self-esteem as a parent strengthens the self-esteem of the entire family. You are worth-while because you are you. You do not have to earn your worth by being an effective parent.


Use  Positive  Self-Talk

It’s easy to criticize ourselves. Self-encouragement takes much more effort, at least at first. We can consciously choose what we tell ourselves about events and our abilities. The self-esteem and serenity we gain make it worth the effort.

Pay attention to the dialogue that goes on in your head. Many negative thoughts are leftover baggage from childhood. “You shouldn’t do that . . .” “That was somehow my fault.” If you had an unhappy childhood, it’s not too late to give yourself what you need. Encourage yourself now, the way you wish your parents had.

Give yourself credit for what you are doing well. List, on paper, what you do well and your strengths as a person and parent. If you notice a negative thought about your abilities, decide if it is accurate. “I am a bad parent” is not accurate. You are judging, criticizing, and labeling yourself. Ask yourself, “What, specifically, do I think is so bad?” As you list your weaknesses, view them as areas to work on. Take each negative quality and create a positive statement out of it.

When writing positive affirmations, use words that are constructive and reassuring, as though you already have the quality.


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  • Instead of saying, “I will try . . .” say “I will . . .” 
  • Instead of “I will stop (old action)” say “I will (new action).” 
  • Instead of “I wish I could be . . .” say “I am . . .” 
  • Avoid words that compare. Instead of “I will _______ more than _______,” say “I will _______.”

Repeat the statements out loud throughout the day. Say them to yourself in the shower, while driving or jogging, when relaxing, or when looking in the mirror in the morning. By telling yourself you have positive qualities, you begin to believe in yourself. What you believe, you will see. The truth here is that you do have all the positive qualities you want to have. You just have to be willing to believe you are worthy of your own love. Program your thoughts and speech in the positive and the negative will begin to disappear.


Love  Yourself  Unconditionally

Value, accept, and appreciate yourself as you are, with all your imperfections. Parenting is a challenging task; both you and your children will make mistakes. When you do something you wish you hadn’t, be kind to yourself. Remember, what’s important is that you learn something from the mistake and make amends if you’ve hurt someone. View your mistakes with a sense of humor. Laugh at yourself in a friendly, loving way. (Reread the Declaration of Imperfection in Chapter 1, “Touring The Parent’s Toolshop.”) 

Divorced parents can face difficult challenges to their self-esteem. When a relationship fails, the partners often feel like they are failures. Even if a separation or divorce is an improvement, family members can experience a temporary dip in their self-esteem. If either parent uses the children to hurt the other, it affects the self-esteem of both parents and children. Self-blame and blaming the other spouse create a negative and unhelpful attitude. Parenting after divorce is a time of healing and establishing new, revised family relationships.

Children have a higher need for security and affirmation during and after divorce. Some children wrongfully blame themselves for the divorce. Children are frightened to see the adults in their life acting like children—arguing, blaming, yelling, or being revengeful. Children can have temporary regressions in behavior or start behaving negatively. Since misbehavior is the result of discouragement, encouragement at these times is critical.

You can regain or improve the self-esteem your family had before the divorce. Focus on strengths, encourage yourself, use positive self-talk, and visualize yourself meeting your goals. Offer your children encouragement and reassurance. You can live and thrive after divorce. You have a choice, however, as to the quality of that life. Whatever the financial or material resources you have, your inner resources are what matter most to your recovery.



  • Encouragement is the one tool that most directly builds self-esteem. Several other toolsets build self-esteem in indirect ways. The Independence Toolset teaches children skills, helping them feel more capable and confident to try new things. The Cooperation Toolset prevents power struggles, which are discouraging to parents and children and can lead to misbehavior. The F-A-X Listening Toolset helps us acknowledge children’s feelings, giving them the courage to face and overcome their problems. While the specific toolset we choose will differ according to the situation, follow the basic guidelines outlined in this chapter when using encouragement.


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  • Descriptive encouragement is a powerful tool. When we describe what our children do in an appreciative or enthusiastic way, they will often repeat the behavior. So be careful what you encourage. If your child is playing with a loud, obnoxious toy, and you want him or her to stop, don’t say, “Boy! You look like you’re having fun!” The child is sure to show you just how much fun by making noise for another hour!
  • Don’t  just  use  encouragement  on your  children,  teach  them how  to  use  the  skills,  too. Show them how to give compliments that increase self-esteem rather than ego-esteem. Restate their comparisons to other children. Give them positive statements to replace negative self-talk. Help them turn their mistakes into important learning experiences they can feel good about.
     The best way to quickly remember the basics of building self-esteem and using descriptive encouragement is D.I.P.: 

Describe what the person did well or any effort/improvement, focus on

Internal qualities or what the person thinks/feels, and have a

Positive focus on what is right.

Give each person you know “A D.I.P. a day” and see how quickly their self-esteem and behavior improves!


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