The Magic to Helping Your Children Do Better

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Yes, it’s true.

Today I’m going to share with you my not-so-secret magic in helping your children do better. I do warn though, it’s not exactly what you think.

Before I share the secret and you all then click away, I want to unpack some conventional ways we use to help children to do better and highlight the pitfalls of engaging in these methods. I also want to show how adapting a more kind and firm approach can possibly be the key to the magic.

I remember the moment I felt totally ridiculous in school. Sitting in class, I was taking a make up spelling test. It was the first time I faked sick to stay home from school to try to avoid taking this test. My plan backfired, because now I had to take the test before I was allowed to go outside and play on the playground. My heart raced, my palms were a bit sweaty (probably feeling a bit guilty) as I raced to quickly jot down any letters that at least made half sense. I didn’t care about the grade - I cared about getting outside to jump rope.

It was the last word I had to write. It was a word that tricked my brain before so I had asked to skip and comeback. It was now do or die time. One word between me and playtime. It was the word “of”. Two letters. A word that still sometimes baffles my mind when I’m overwhelmed and typing fast. A word that I rushed to fill out and a word that I spelled phonetically. U-V. Ugh, I look back during that time and shiver. U-V. ::facepalm::

I was in second grade. Oh man, I learned a lot that year. I was in Mrs. Thomas’ room, and this is where I learned that spelling is not my natural talent. This was also the year I discovered sneaky ways to cheat.

But more on that in another blog.


“Where did we get the crazy idea that in order to get children to do better, first we have to make them feel worse? The truth is that children do better when they feel better.” - Jane Nelsen

So what are the conventional methods we use to help children do better?

Recently while teaching this lesson in a large group some of the answers I received included:

  • Rewards such as candy or toys

  • Punishments such as threats

  • Incentives to motivate

  • Rescue/fixing

  • Giving in to demands of comfort

  • Over-protecting them so they never suffer

  • Praise “I’m so proud of you”

  • Patronizing/pacifying, denying feelings “You’ll feel better soon” or “You are okay”

Would you add anything else to this list? If so, share in the comments - I’m curious!

While being used with the best of intentions, these well meaning tactics can tend to have an opposite effect. I want to invite you to place yourself into the children’s perspective. Try to get into the child’s world and see what exactly these tactics invite your children to feel. This same group who offered those suggestions went on to uncover and unpack what they might start to feel:

  • inadequate (don’t learn how to do for self)

  • dependent on things and people

  • protective and learn to pull away and hide their flaws

  • materialistic

  • entitled

  • believe that love means getting others to take care of them and give in to all their demands, developing manipulation skills to get their way

While we feel we are setting the stage for potential success, what we might be doing is fostering a short-term win with long-term consequences. When we intervene with the best of intentions we might start to foster a perspective that is the opposite of what we hope for our growing children.

We forget that children are always taking in the environment around them like sponges. As a result, based on their own cognitive developmental stage and experiences, they start to create beliefs about themselves. There are significant emotional events (SEE) that start to form out beliefs. Children form these beliefs based on the responses from the trusted adults around them.


Okay, so now it’s time. What’s the magic secret to helping your children do better?

Help them to actually FEEL better. Children who feel better, will do better.

It’s actually a simple process that can be quite difficult in execution. So, read and take notes, and if you’re looking for more help and support - now is a GREAT time to schedule a free call to see if parent coaching is a good fit for you and your family.

Let’s start to highlight some connection based tools. Tools that will help you support your children to start to feel better during these moments.

  • Validate their feelings

  • Listen to them

  • Give choices and responsibility

  • Help them discover their own resources

  • Teach that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn

Tools like these will help you create a space for trust and connection to become fostered. You start to empower your children to live their lives, make mistakes, take accountability and grow from it all - with your love and support.

Children start to feel:

  • capable

  • confident

  • worthy

  • open to possibilities

  • curious

  • and they start to make healthy decisions about how to experience belonging and significance.

Oh, so how’d that spelling test work out for me? I failed it. EPIC FAILURE. Red pen everywhere. I was humiliated and scared to take it home. When I did I wish that I could say that I was embraced and someone shared with me that sometimes spelling is hard to master, especially when feeling rushed and pressured. Perhaps someone who noticed and shared that maybe I needed a bit of extra help in spelling, organization and planning in school.

Instead I was told that my spelling was atrocious. My Dad was a Harvard grad so I had some pretty big boots to fill. I know now he was doing the best he could to motivate me to do better. But between friends, that didn’t work.

We always do the best we can until we know better, then we do better.