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Pure Friendship for Individuals with Special Needs
Michele Borba

5 Ways to Create an Atmosphere of Encouragement for your Child with Special Needs

As parents, we know that we should encourage our children whenever possible. Sometimes amid the stressful and hectic life of a special-needs family, though, that can be a hard thing to remember. Try making encouragement a family project. Not only will it help you remember to recognize your child’s accomplishments more enthusiastically, but it will help your child learn the value of encouraging others. That skill for encouragement can pay off in unexpected ways. Dr. William Hartup, from the University of Minnesota, found through extensive observations that the most well-liked children often praise, cooperate, and encourage others. Children who don't cooperate or who ridicule, ignore, or put down others are most likely to be disliked by classmates. Kids just like to be around kids who accept them and build them up. And don’t we all? Model encouragement for your kids, give them the skills to be positive toward others, and you might just get more high-fives and “great jobs!” yourself.

1. Make a List of Encouragers

Brainstorm a list of supportive statements that build others up, such as: • Great idea! • Super! • Nice try! • Good shot! • Good answer! • Great game! • Keep it up! • Wow! Post the list and say these phrases frequently so your child will “catch them” and start using them with others.

2. Identify Role Models

Tell your child that one of the secrets of people who get along is that they frequently encourage others. Point out when athletes give each other hugs and high-fives. Look for instances in favorite TV shows or books where characters encourage each other. Ask your child if there is a classmate, teacher, or paraprofessional who always makes others feel good about themselves. Talk about what that person does that makes your child feel special.

3. Practice Encouraging Others

Remember that kids learn new skills best by practicing, practicing, and practicing. Find daily opportunities to help your child try out those skills until he or she can confidently use them independently. Make it a challenge or a game to praise others a certain number of times during a specific period. A mom in Colorado Springs shared another easy way to increase praising at home: She purchased a little ornamental magnet for each family member, and stuck them on her refrigerator with pencils and paper nearby. Family members would write a notes complimenting one another for deserving deeds and clip them to the appropriate personalized magnet: “Bill, thanks for cleaning your room. It looks great!” “Andy, good luck at your game!” The mom said that her home in no time became a more encouraging place as everyone practiced praising.

4. Recognize positive actions as they happen

One of the simplest and most effective ways of enhancing any behavior is by reinforcing the action as soon as it happens. So whenever you notice your child acting in an encouraging and caring manner, let him or her know how pleased it makes you feel. As you encourage encouraging behavior, you create a cycle of positive feelings. When kids are aware that they can become more sensitive, kind, and encouraging, they are more likely to emulate those types of behaviors.

5. Show the effect of encouragement

Encouraging, kind acts, even small ones, can make a big difference in people’s lives, so point them out to help your child see the impact his actions made. “Your sister was so pleased when you told her she did a great job on her art project.” “Did you see the smile on Ryan’s face when you gave him a high five?” Talk about how good you feel when your child expresses happiness with something you've done, and ask how encouragement makes him or her feel. Read some children's books on encouragement to continue the conversation.

WRITTEN ON April 24, 2017 BY:

Michele Borba

Dr. Michele Borba, is an educational psychologist and expert in bullying and character development. She has appeared on TODAY, Dateline, The View, Dr. Phil, CNN, MSNBC, Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew, and The Early Show, among others, and author of 24 books including UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World. For more information, visit Michele at, and on Facebook, and Twitter.