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IMG_20150330_221155Any good mom would say that praise is important for a child’s growth and development right? Well…. not in excess according to this insightful article by Heidi Stevens “In Criticism of Praise” in the Jan 2015 Southwest Airlines magazines. Heidi points out the damage of “over-praising” our kids. The biggest problems being that kids are afraid to try difficult or even new things, because the don’t want to break the pattern of being great all the time, like mom says that they are.

I totally get the points that this article is making about the damage that is caused by the behavior of these parents, I also get the reasoning behind the actions of the parents she is talking about in this article. However, I think that someone is missing the point and what the real problem is.

Right from the get go in this article they talk about the little boy who truly does stink on the soccer field, but his mom and grandma try to cheer him up by telling him how awesome he is.  The truth is, he is not awesome. They are lying to him. Their praise is “FALSE praise.”  While I certainly wouldn’t advocate telling a child that he is just no good at this task, I certainly don’t think it serves anyone to lie to the child.

Kids are much smarter than we as adults give them credit for. Sure they have a lot still to learn about the world and as the parent we are the ones responsible to teach them, not just fill them with “false” self-confidence. If we lie to our kids and tell them that something is good, when it just plain isn’t and even the child can tell that it isn’t, it just teaches the child not to trust in his parents for an honest answer, or worse, it teaches him to lie to himself, and not work towards getting better at the things he wants to do in life.

I remember once reading in a parenting book in 1993, that children need 5 positive comments, to each negative comment. But this book also specified that the “comments need to be sincere. Kids can tell when you really mean what you say about them.”  When mom tells Johnny that he is a superstar at soccer, when the coach and everyone else observing can tell otherwise, mom is failing on her job. She is giving “Lazy praise.”

It is easy to tell someone “You’re the best”, “You are awesome”, “You did great.”

But the praise that really makes a difference takes work on the parents part.  It involves paying attention to the child’s behaviors, attitudes and efforts. I mean really paying attention. Real praise that makes a difference involves getting real specific with what you liked best about the things that they did, and asking questions to further understand how they felt about their performance and what they got out of it.  Getting them to think a little bit also gets you more involved in their world as the parent. Remembering that resilience is an important life skill that you want your child to have also, can help you as you let your child talk about their disappointments and as you care enough to guide them (by giving them acceptable options, not by trying to convince them to do what you may want them to do) and help them decide how they are going to handle their own challenges.

If a child is doing really well at something, let him know the details that you notice about what he does, ask him questions, let him teach you something. Nothing makes my kids feel better than knowing they can teach me something. And truthfully, there is almost always something they learn in school that I didn’t know and they get to tell me all about. Let them know that what they are working on has value and you care enough to learn along with them.

When it comes to sporting events and performances, the best praise you can give is to be there…. not just in your seat, but really being there, in the moment with them. Put away your phone (unless your taking a picture), get involved in the event, and show interest in what interests them.  Cheer for them when it’s appropriate, celebrate with them when they do a truly fantastic job.  Feel with them when they fall. Listen to them when they talk about what they did wrong and encourage them as they figure out what to do next. If they are really upset, step in and guide them in a realistic caring manner. Praise them for what they did well, specifically, and praise them for good character displayed, even if they didn’t perform well. But really pay attention and make sure it is sincere.

Some kids may battle with perfectionism, and they may need you to help them see that no one is perfect. The real problem with perfectionism is that it can cause the perfectionist to avoid trying new things, because they will inevitably make mistakes and they just can’t handle doing something wrong. As a parent we can help when we see this happening to our child. The one thing that helped me get over my own perfectionism, was working with a woman doing scrapbooks that were beautiful and were published in multiple magazines.  When I got up close to her work and noticed that there were a lot of imperfections, I realized what the difference was between her success and my incomplete work.  She got a lot more done, because she let the imperfections be. She allowed her creativity to come out, without worrying about it being perfect.

If you watch professional sports, or go to live music or dramatic events, with your kids, you may be able to point out to your kids that even professionals make mistakes sometimes, but what makes them professionals is that they get up and keep going.

So to sum it up, while there is danger in over-praising our kids, there are ways that we can praise that teach and encourage.

  1. Pay attention to the details in your kids’ lives
  2. Be sincere in your compliments
  3. Be there, present and in the moment when they need you
  4. Allow them to make their own observations and decisions, being understanding if it is not what you would want.
  5. Guide them to see the good that is in them, and recognize making mistakes isn’t the end, it’s just an opportunity to show how much they want it.

Praising our kids in an appropriate manner, takes on so much more than some generic compliments showered on the child at all times.  It takes loving them and caring about them enough to feel with them and be a part of their lives.                                                                     — Laura

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