At a time in which society continually expects more and more from us, is it wise and character-building for parents to praise their children?
I am not a parent, but I am an uncle of two nieces, and one thing I’ve noticed my brother struggling with is just how much he should praise his children.
That got me thinking: Can you ever praise a child too much? Is not praising your children enough detrimental to their character and success? And is it quantity or quality that makes a difference?
Most parents praise their children when they do well in school, or in one of their hobbies or activities – either way, praise is usually given when a child does something great. When they come first, or win something, or when the parents find a lack of people to compare their kids with because they’ve done so well.
Kids, however, once they’re praised, start liking and expecting to be praised more often, and parents everywhere seem only too happy to oblige. We have moved a long way away from the parenting of the 50s and the 60s when mums and dads were really strict, and now many parents tend to over-praise their children to entertaining-for-us, ruinous-for-the-children extremes.
How many children who can’t hit a note to save their lives have you seen in singing competitions? Or others who can barely act on television? Most of the time, this is not wholly the child’s doing – actually, let me re-phrase that, it is NEVER wholly the child’s doing – but rather, largely their parents’ fault.
A parent’s job is to be honest. Not everyone is good at singing or dancing or modelling or acting and it is okay to let your kids know that. When I was young I wanted to be a singer, but my mother just looked at me, laughed, and said ‘Hanini, I love you, but no.’ It hurt, and I still sing at karaoke joints, but at least I never ridiculed myself in front of an audience per se. Mum did, however, praise my eye for matching colours, putting a room together well and writing – and just look at me now!
She invested a lot in the things I could do, but those I couldn’t she was honest about. She never stopped me from singing in the shower, or trying to learn the guitar, and I’m sure if I had to go into a singing competition now, she’d be in the front row beaming with pride, but that doesn’t mean I’m good.
Children these days always think they are good at everything, and that is wrong. Once they leave childhood behind – and that usually takes two weeks once you reach the tender age of 15 – life hits hard, and if children don’t have the right emotional and psychological mind-set they will be destroyed by the bulldozer that is society’s honesty.
I am not saying that children should be criticised constantly, but sometimes it needs to be done. Children everywhere should be allowed to follow their dreams, but dreaming big needs to be done within a certain set of criteria. It is okay for a good child actor to dream of going to Hollywood, and with enough dedication and hard work he or she might actually make it, but if a child can’t even lie without flinching, then what is the point?
Praise needs to be something that accentuates their sense of success and not an every-day thing that they cannot live without. It is also important not to associate praise with rewards – after all, how many of you out there have been praised by your bosses without getting a promotion or a pay rise?
As Jenn Berman, PhD, the author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy and Confident Children and a marriage and family therapist told Psychology Today, “If you tell your daughter, ‘If you get an A on the test I’ll give you $5,’ then you are creating a situation in which your child is motivated by money, not by the positive feelings of success.”
So how should you praise your children?
Well, be specific and genuine. Tell them what they are good at exactly, so they will know if they need to improve on something else. ‘You’re amazing at doing pirouettes,’ not ‘you’re a great ballerina’ – That way you’ll have said what you meant without over-praising them.
It’s also important to not praise the obvious. Every kid learns how to read and write – it’s fine to say ‘well done’ but another thing to create an event out of nothing. Apart from that, you should only say things when you mean them. A child might feel down about doing badly at something, but rather than praising them, why not help them out?
And finally, focus on the process. Don’t overlook the hard work and time that goes into getting better. Don’t praise them for getting into something and then forget they are working hard at it every day. Show them that what they do and work hard at is what makes you proud and what will get them noticed! Because ultimately, that is what will get them noticed when mummy and daddy aren’t around.
Do you agree with James? We’d love to hear from you!