Is there a right or wrong way to “praise” our children?

praise children It is easy to see the forest through the trees unless you’re in the middle of the trees, where you obviously can’t see the big picture. This analogy can be compared to the concept of parenting; easy to understand unless you’re in the trenches where sight of the big picture is sometimes lost.  There are many methods of parenting, one not necessarily better than the other and with success based on the same key issues; truth, love, consistent guidance and discipline. We have all witnessed various examples of parenting throughout our lives, with the most familiar being that in which we were raised. Years ago, over praising children wasn’t an issue and self-esteem in general, wasn’t the focus of raising one’s children. It was more about focusing and doing your best in your studies, obeying your parents/elders and having time to play. We trusted our inner selves at knowing when we had done something over and above; we didn’t have to have someone pat us on the back. It wasn’t common to have a parent around 24/7 at each and every one of our events, therefore, we didn’t look for or rely on our parents’ continuous appraisal.

Over the last several decades, parenting has switched focus with more emphasis on developing the self-esteem of our children. “The Right Way to Praise Your Kids”: by Heather Hatfield Wed MD Feature April 7, 2013, asks us how much praise is too much or too little, as well as is Quantity more important than quality? In her article, Jenn Berman PhD, a marriage and family therapist (author of A to Z Guide To Raising Happy and Confident Kids) stated that “we are becoming praise junkies as parents. We’ve gone to the opposite extreme of a few decades ago when parents tended to be more strict. And now we overpraise our children.” She went on to say ‘there is something about praising your child constantly that is belittling. There’s an underlying message that the child has to get his parent’s approval all the time and constantly look to the parent for validation.”

Psychologytoday.com posted an article, “Parenting: Don’t Praise Your Children,” Sept 2009 by Jim Taylor PhD. In this particular article, Mr. Taylor went on to say; “Let’s start with the purpose of praise: to encourage children to continue to engage in positive behaviors that produce positive outcomes. Now you can start to see the problems with “good job!” First, it lacks specificity. It doesn’t tell children what precisely they did well and without that information they can’t know exactly what they should do in the future to get the same outcome. Second, “good job!” focuses on the outcome rather than the process. If you’re going to be lazy with your praise, at least say, “Good effort!” because it focuses them on what they did to do a good job.”

Mr. Taylor PhD feels that children pretty much know when they’ve done something worthy of praise.  He also noted “that many parents have been misguided by the ‘self-esteem movement,’ which has told them that the way to build their children’s self-esteem is to tell them how good they are at things. Unfortunately, trying to convince your children of their competence will likely fail because life has a way of telling them unequivocally how capable or incapable they really are through success and failure.”

Paul Donahue PhD, founder and director of Child Development Assoc. (author of Parenting Without Fear: Letting Go of Worry and Focusing; on What Really Matters) posted in Ms Hatfield’s article, “The Right Way to Praise Your Kids,” that “we should especially recognize our children’s efforts to push themselves and work hard to achieve a goal. One thing to remember is that it’s the process not the end product that matters.”

Mr. Donahue states, “praising the effort and not the outcome can also mean recognizing your child when she has worked hard to clean the yard, cook dinner, or complete a history assignment. Whatever the scenario, praise should be given on a case-by-case basis and be proportionate to the amount of elbow grease your child put into it. ” Mr. Donahue went on to give several examples; “When your daughter practices for weeks and finally learns to ride a two-wheel bicycle, give her praise for sticking with it, or, when your son jumps on an amusement ride, you can tell him he is brave and adventuresome, but don’t overdo it with the praise since he’s not really working hard–he’s having fun.

Both featured experts in the article, DonahuePhD and Ms BermanPhD, pointed out that they, “like many other experts all agree that praising with the use of money isn’t a good idea.” Ms Berman summarized in regards to being paid money as praise as “creating a situation in which your child is motivated by money, not by the positive feelings of success.” Mr. Donahue PhD encouraged ‘giving practical praise’ and left us with a “few tips on do’s and don’ts to keep in mind; 1)Be Specific on what you’re praising, 2)Be genuine and sincere, 3)Encourage not being afraid to try new activities and make mistakes, 4)Don’t praise the obvious, 5)Say it when you mean it and 6)Focus on the process.”

 

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