A key aspect to understanding discouragement vs. encouragement is in understanding how children potentially understand what is happening. We like to say that children are amazingly keen observers but terrible interpreters of what they observe. Why? Simply because they do not have the life experience yet to provide a context for understanding all that they observe. This applies especially for young children but also for teens.

Let’s take an example with a young child.

Ellie is 4 and her mom brings home a new baby brother. Let’s assume that the parents involved Ellie in every aspect of the pregnancy in a wonderful way and Ellie was indeed very excited about it all. When the baby comes home, Ellie observes that everyone fusses over the baby a lot. The baby cries and is picked up, nursed, changed, cuddled, etc. She feels a bit sad and left out (again we’ll assume that her parents are responding wonderfully to her own needs and are prepared for her to have mixed feelings about all of this). Ellie interprets from this that the new rules around here are to cry, poop and pee in your pants, and various other unwelcomed behaviors, are now what counts for getting loads of attention. She therefore begins to do exactly these behaviors.

Ellie is NOT doing this on purpose. She feels discouraged due to NO FAULT of anyone and responds with what appears to the naked eye as mis-behavior.


See if you can see such a cycle in your own child and share it with the group. (Remember that a teen is equally capable of replicating this cycle. Note how sensitively they tend to react to what friends text, or how they act towards them, etc.)


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