Many parents are in a seeming race to see who can award more gold stars to their children every week. Well, here’s a fact every parent needs to think about: The winners are often the losers. Here’s why:
- Constant praise teaches children that it’s other people’s duty to give your children self-esteem. They grow up believing if you feel bad about yourself, it couldn’t be because you failed a test, or got caught cheating or because you spread malicious gossip about another student. No you feel bad about yourself because someone failed to tell you how special you are today.
- Overpraise only makes parents feel better. We praise our kids nonstop, and publicly shouting his name at school plays or soccer tournaments, not really to make our kids feel better, but help us deal with their supposed failures. Our child knows being a tree in the school play isn’t the same as being the star. They know they sit on the bench because another play is better. But the parents feel better because they’re good praisers.
- Kids see through the crap that is false praise. They don’t need adults praising them for getting to breakfast on time or going through a whole day without cheating. It doesn’t make them happier or more prepared for the adult world. It just confirms their suspicions that adults are clueless. And it conditions them to a world where praise must continually be fed to them, even when what’s most needed is a kick in the butt.
- Overpraising teaches kids the idea of “why bother.” Why bother seeking praise from a parent who ladles it out like candy? It will sound just like the praise received for wiping your nose on a Kleenex, not your shirt sleeve. So the honest praise for a job well done will sound hollow.
That’s the problem. But with a few attitude adjustments on our part as parents, we can turn a child who expects praise for showing up for breakfast into a young adult in training for the real world:
- Expect excellence and only occasionally reward it. All kids are hardwired strive to meet their parent’s expectations. This is true with even rebellious teens. So if a parent expects their child to always do their best, to study, to overcome obstacles, to stand for what’s right, to give thanks at night, to be honorable and courageous, curiously enough that’s the kind of young adult that emerges. By expecting excellence and occasionally rewarding it is how our kids learn that it’s their actions that make them feel good about themselves, not the praise of mom for being “so good.”
- Learn the power of encouragement. Encouragement is much more effective for raising an adult than effusive praise. Encouragement lifts up a discouraged child. It doesn’t gloss over the set-back. Kids need to be encouraged to study harder, practice longer, try something new, stay with a difficult task, sacrifice, achieve, and persevere in the face of defeat. This kind of parenting doesn’t praise non-achievement or bad behavior, but encourages the behavior all successful adults demonstrate.
- Let your child learn the awesome impact of achievement, self-esteem and self respect. Self esteem is something earned, and it’s earned by achieving. Self-esteem is what a person feels overcoming a difficulty, scoring well on a test, finishing an “impossible” task, and defeating competitors. It’s not earned when a doting mother says “I’m so proud of you” to a thirteen year old who handed in a sloppy paper because it wasn’t started till ten pm the night before. Developing self-esteem leads to a healthy self respect. And self respect is what allows a teen or young adult to say to herself, “I can handle this.”
- Remember praise is a parenting tool, not a substitute for parenting. Many over-praisers find it easier to praise their child at bedtime or scream their name during soccer tournament than they do to put in the countless, mind numbing hours of parenting. The fact is wild, loud, public praise doesn’t replace spending evenings reading with your child when you’d rather be watching TV or cleaning the house. Making time to be parents is what shapes our kids to be adults. Hand praise out to commend outstanding effort. Not to cover up the fact you’ve dropped the parenting ball.
Excerpted from Fearless Parenting: Raising a Child to Face the Adult World by Harry H, Harrison, Jr.