What is encouragement? When we look at the word encouragement we see the word “courage.” Courage is the ability to face danger and deal with it. To encourage, then, is to help develop that ability in someone else. The “ment” at the end or the word makes that development into a noun, thus encouragement means “The act of giving courage or support to another.”
When we encourage children with our words, we celebrate a child’s effort, rather than teaching a child to look for the approval of an adult. Encouraging statements help children learn that their effort matters! Here are some examples of encouraging statements to use a mealtimes:
The Benefits of Encouraging Words
When we stop ourselves from consistently falling back to simple praise statements, we can carefully choose encouraging words to reinforce the specific skill a child is learning or the specific sensory experience in which they are engaging. We might provide encouragement to a child by simply narrating what they are doing. For example, we might say, “Your teeth just crunched that cracker!” This statement is specific in helping the child draw attention to what she is doing with her mouth.
Through thoughtfully chosen encouraging words, children gain a clear understanding of what and how they are doing based on specific feedback targeted at celebrating their efforts. With encouragement from a caring grown-up, a child can learn to recognize their efforts and feel proud of their own hard work.
Encouragement is especially important when we consider that a child’s skills may vary from day to day. While a child who is learning to try new foods might be able to take two whole bites of a new food on Monday, that same child might lack the drive to take even a small taste of the same food on Tuesday. This is okay and completely normal. When we focus on encouragement, by celebrating a child’s effort, a child never needs to feel like a failure because he wasn’t able to eat a certain food. When we celebrate what a child can do, through our encouraging words, we help them to understand that they are supported and loved, regardless of their ability to eat.