I had a big test coming up after lunch. Geometry. Not my best subject. I was trying to hide my nerves while my friends swapped Fruit Roll-Ups for a chocolate Snack Pack. Reaching into my lunchbox, something was attached to my ham and cheese Lunchable. It was a note from my mom: "No matter what, I love you! Xoxo, Mom." I quickly hid the note, hoping that no one saw the small letter of encouragement. Love notes from Mom aren't going to make a fifth-grader popular. But inside, I was beaming.
"We all need encouragement," say Don Dinkmeyer, Ph.D., and Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D., in their book, "Encouraging Children to Learn." Originally printed in 1963, the ideas on which this book was founded ring true today.
"Encouraged children believe themselves capable of overcoming adversity, of meeting life's challenges; they feel the value of contributing to the world around them, and both child and society benefit."
With the beginning of a new school year just around the corner, now's the time to think about ways you can inspire your own children and support their sense of intrinsic value. This does not mean you should give your child a gold medal or blue ribbon for every good deed. In fact, overpraising your child can have a negative long-term impact. According to Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, Ph.D., doling out generic praise based on superficial attributes -- such as intelligence, good looks and athletic ability -- can establish a fixed mindset in children. This will limit their motivation for growth to a certain end point -- those medals, ribbons and attagirls.
Alternatively, incite a growth mindset in your child by focusing on encouragement through specific examples and self-improvement. Switch "You're so smart!" with "Your hard work really showed this week on your spelling test!" or "You're so fast" with "Wow, that was your best lap time yet!" and see how praising the acts of learning and growing changes their attitudes. Tucking such words of inspiration in their lunch bag will reinforce this growth mindset throughout the school day.
According to Education.com, "every kid needs a special treat every now and then to remind him that he's loved and cared for, and most of all, that someone is always thinking about him! Slip ... sweet little notes into his lunch box, or jacket pocket to brighten up his day and let him know you're there for him -- even when you're not."
Not one for words? No need to panic. All parents have their own strengths and abilities to better motivate their children. Take heed of Bryan Dunn, graphic designer, illustrator and super-dad. For over two years now, he's been using his talents to create funny, fearsome and fantastical artwork for his children. Where does he find his canvases? His son's brown lunch bags. This creative projection of love for art and his son began after the school told parents to use paper bags for lunches. Who needs a superhero lunch bag when your father can draw you a new one every day? Some of Dunn's designs include Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hercules, pirates, crocodiles, lions, tigers and bears -- oh, my!
As for me, I don't remember how I did on that geometry test. But I do remember feeling propped up by my mother's words.