By Paige Trevor
The third session of PEP I: Parenting 5 to 12 Year Olds is entirely devoted to the art of encouragement. We learn that encouragement is low-key, best done one-on-one, notices improvement, works with strengths (as opposed to against weaknesses) and is most successful when given liberally to both our kids and ourselves. Encouragement is not judgmental, critical, sarcastic, blaming, loud or effusive. Encouragement does not dismiss or deny feelings, experiences or opinions, and it does not expect perfection. Encouragement is not praise. If we are seeking to control by means of our approval or disapproval, we have left encouragement and moved into praise and punishment.
I ask the class to dissect the word courage. “What do you see in this word?” I ask, and more than one person in this sassy, fun class literally yells, “RAGE!” I’m standing there at the whiteboard, ready to circle “cour” because that is the answer I am looking for. ”Cour” derives from French word coeur, meaning heart, and I’m hearing my class call out, “rage.” I double over in laughter.
Had they not heard me talk about encouragement? Did we not just review slides about what it is, how to do it, why it’s important? Nope, my subversive class got RAGE out of encouragement, and it just slayed me.
Leading PEP classes can be a lot like parenting in that you can’t be sure that the lesson you are teaching is the lesson they are learning—another example of what I write about in my blog post People Are Prisms. In fact, “rage” IS part of the word courage, and I did say that “encouragement does not dismiss or deny feelings.” So there, I learned something.
Linda Jessup, the founder of PEP, recently reminded a pack of PEP leaders that our class participants will learn more from their peers than from us. At first, it hurt my ego. I’ll admit that—I have the courage to be imperfect. Then I remembered that this is what democracy is all about. Everyone has something to teach us.
Back in my class, we had about seven minutes left, so I offered, “Let’s take your everyday problems and douse them with encouragement and see what happens!” “PEP in Action” is one of my very favorite games. There was a groundswell of morning mayhem issues, how to get that kid to put his shoes on and get out of the house on time without nagging, yelling, cajoling, bribing or crying.
An encouraging dad shared this: “I offer to play football with my son if we are out the door (shoes on and ready) before we leave for school. Now he’s five minutes early outside nearly every day.”
This dad has got IT. He works with strengths—his child loves football and loves Dad. He keeps it low-key, no yelling to uphold the limit. I could feel the inspiration flowing around our little circle. Fresh ideas were popping up; possibilities and creativity crackled.
And this, my friends, is why PEP leaders lead. We surround ourselves with engaged parents who fill us with possibilities, creativity and new ways of looking at our same old boring problems.
Paige Trevor is a certified parent educator, writer, public speaker and founder of Balancing Act, LLC, an organizing consultancy providing tried-and-true methods for establishing efficient routines and a peaceful household. She is the mother of two teenagers.