Q: We want our children to reach their full potential. But sometimes we're at a loss as to how to motivate them to do their best without getting pushy. Do you have any suggestions?

Jim: It's actually pretty straightforward: Be their cheerleader. Affirmation beats out criticism and negativity any day. There's just one catch — be careful you're cheering for the right things.

In football, for example, cheerleaders don't scream for the defense when the offense is on the field. They motivate their team by cheering for the right things at the right times. And that requires paying attention to what's actually happening in the game.

That's how you cheer for your kids, too — by focusing your encouragement on who they can realistically become with some grit and determination. Maybe your child won't thrive in sports. They may be better suited for intellectual pursuits or activities like dance, art or playing an instrument. Perhaps their academic ability isn't as strong in math or science as it is in history or composition. Take that into consideration at grade-card time. Requiring excellence from a child who isn't gifted in an area is like asking them to grow a foot taller, or to become an introvert or an extrovert when they're naturally wired the opposite.

Of course, you want your children to work hard in every area of their lives. But you won't motivate them to strive for their potential by expecting the impossible. Every person is gifted in some way (I highly recommend the book "8 Great Smarts" by Dr. Kathy Koch). Build your child's competence by helping them discover their natural gifts and talents. Then cheer them on to be the best they can be.

For more ideas to help your children thrive, visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.

Q: When so many marital relationships end in divorce, why should I even bother tying the knot? It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the institution of matrimony has outlived its usefulness and doesn't mean much these days.

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Well, I would respectfully disagree. Next to an individual's relationship with God, there's nothing in this world more important than the relationship between a husband and wife. That's why we're dedicated to doing everything we can to strengthen good marriages and bring healing and restoration to those struggling to survive.

On the practical side, reliable research consistently demonstrates that married people are healthier, happier, live longer, enjoy better mental health, have a greater sense of fulfillment and are less likely to suffer physical abuse than their unmarried counterparts. In addition to this, a study published in Psychological Reports reveals that married persons are less likely to feel lonely — with the authors' definition of "loneliness" being "the absence or perceived absence of satisfying social relationships."

In a review of more than 130 published empirical studies measuring how marital status affects personal well-being, Dr. Robert H. Coombs of UCLA's Biobehavioral Sciences Department found that alcoholism, suicide, morbidity, mortality and a variety of psychiatric problems are all far more prevalent among the unmarried than among the married.

I could go on citing statistics, but I realize that won't help you much if your cynicism about marriage is based primarily on sour personal experience. In that case, there's no substitute for a good heart-to-heart talk with a caring professional who not only knows the psychological and sociological facts, but who will also listen to your concerns with compassion and understanding. If you'd like to discuss your feelings or your family history, I invite you to call Focus on the Family's counseling department at 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain Time).

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.

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