7 Keys to Building Strong Families: Key #4 Cultivating an Encouraging Environment
When I was a little boy I spent many a Saturday morning watching cowboy shows where I would frequently hear Roy Rogers or Gene Autry sing “Home on the Range.” Do you remember the words to the chorus?
Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day
It’s sad to say that many of our homes today aren’t like the home on the range. Rather than seldom hearing a discouraging word, many of us live in homes where seldom is heard an ENCOURAGING word.
It’s so easy for us when we’re tired, weary and stressed-out to become more negative and critical and only notice what’s wrong or what someone has failed to do. A lack of encouragement leads to discouragement and depression, which is the number one mental health problem of our time.
In my last article I talked about the power of creative expressions of love. This week I’m going to give you another practical, proven idea to take your important relationships to the next level.
Key #4 says: A healthy home cultivates an encouraging environment.
Do you remember the last time you were criticized, minimized or put down? When was the last time you worked hard to do a good job and the only thing that was noticed was what you didn’t do or what you did do that wasn’t good enough? How did you feel? Did you feel better about yourself? How did you feel towards the person criticizing you? Were you encouraged? Were you motivated to do better? Or did you feel like giving up?
An encouraging environment is one in which we spend more time building and encouraging our loved ones than we do scolding and correcting them. It’s one in which we honor them by speaking respectfully to them.
An encouraging environment is one where our emphasis is on catching those we love doing good, rather than catching them making mistakes. We invest more energy in praising them for being successful than in criticizing and castigating them for falling short of our expectations.
Several months ago I criticized one of my boys for not making his bed. I didn’t yell but my tone of voice told him that I was disappointed. Later that day my wife said, “Gary, you criticized Andrew for not making his bed this morning and he didn’t. But he has made it every day for the past several days. Have you noticed it and praised him for following through?”
I’m embarrassed to say that my answer was no. But within minutes I went to him, acknowledged his hard work and told him how much I appreciated it. His smile and “Thanks Dad” let me know I had encouraged him.
An encouraging environment is one in which we respond to our children’s pleasant as well as painful emotions. Without intending to, many of us primarily respond to our children or spouses when their emotions are inappropriate or out of control. What many kids learn is that if I want any attention the only way I will get it is if I’m either in a crisis or create a crisis.
An encouraging environment is one where it is safe for any family member to make mistakes. In fact it is not only safe but our kids begin to learn that God can use our failures to help us grow. They learn that Romans 8:28 is really true, that God can cause “all things to work together for good.” They learn that one of the best questions to ask after making a mistake is “What can I learn from this?” and not “How can I hide this so I won’t get in trouble?”
How can you begin to create an encouraging environment in your home? Get out a pad and pencil. Write down the name of your spouse and your kids. Now ask yourself the following questions and write your responses under each person’s name. What are their strengths? What do they do well? What says love to them? What makes them laugh? What makes them beam? What gives them joy? What is it about them that you are thankful for? What are three good things that they have done in the past week?
Now, how many times during the last week have you given them a specific compliment or thanked them for something positive? When is the last time you “caught” them being healthy and let them know how much you appreciated it? When is the last time you gave them an inexpensive gift just for the fun of it?
Here’s how simple this can be. Several years ago when my son Andrew was five I went into his room, as I do almost every night, to chat and to pray with him. This evening I decided to make up a song about all the things I appreciated and loved about him and started singing to him. The words didn’t rhyme, the tune changed with every new verse and my voice didn’t sound that good. After a couple of minutes I ran out of things to sing. As I started to pray with him Andrew looked up at me, took my hand and said, “Sing to me some more daddy, sing to me some more.” He loved to hear me share what I liked and appreciated about him. That’s the only time in my life someone has asked me to keep on singing.
For the next seven days set aside a couple of minutes each day to encourage each person on your list. At first they may not notice, but after a few days you will discover the power of an encouraging word.