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Inside: Helpful strategies for praising children.
A version of this article first appeared on Mamapedia.com
There’s no denying it. We are raising a generation of praise junkies. Everywhere you go, you can hear children being lavished with praise. It doesn’t matter what they do, it is treated as if they completed the most amazing feat.
Little Johnny kicks the ball in a straight line and he’s told You’re awesome! Jane shoots and misses the basket and someone tells her, you did your best, gimme a hi five.
I’m not knocking parents and caregivers. I completely get why they do it. Full confession, I’m guilty of it too.
Twenty years ago the parenting literature focused on how important it is to praise children in order to build their self-esteem. Coming from a home environment where my parents failed miserably at validating my siblings and I, I was determined to make my son know how special he is.
Every chance I got I told him how handsome, smart, and sweet he was. As he got older, I tried to protect his feelings from getting hurt. If he didn’t win a soccer match or chess tournament, I would tell him things like, “You did your best. You’re still a winner.”
He clearly internalized the praises we poured on him. So much so that he took pleasure in bragging to family members about what an expert he was at playing his video games. He loved telling everyone how great he was at soccer.
I overheard many conversations between him and his friends about how much cooler he is because he has the latest Nerf gun. Yup, I was raising that kid.
Of course I want my son to think highly of himself. However, never at the expense of others. Clearly, these are attitudes we don’t want to support.
My son is ten now and he is starting to look to his peers for validation. I can’t help but wonder, have I prepared him for this phase of his life or have I set him up to be disappointed? All his life we have told him how great he is and how smart he is… what happens when he fails his first test or when his peers don’t accept him? Will he be able to brush it off and move on, or will his ego be so crushed that he gives in to self-loathing?
I want my children to be confident, but I also want them to have a realistic opinion of themselves and who they are.
This is why I’ve made a conscious effort to change how I dole out praise.
- I’m more realistic about what I say to my children, and I try to stay away from telling them they are the best at anything. Let’s face it, there will always be someone that does something better than your kid.
- I no longer sugar-coat things when they make mistakes or fail at something. Instead I turn their setbacks into teachable moments they can learn from.
- I not only praise them for doing something well, I also praise them when I see them showing positive character traits. For instance if I see them being kind or being selfless, I let them know I am proud. It’s important that they learn that being a good person is not just about what they accomplish, it’s also about how they treat other people.
- The other thing I had to change was my need for my children to be the best. Previously, I believed that my children’s success was validation that I was a good parent. I needed them to be exceptional children so that I could take my throne as exceptional mom. Heavy burden to place on an unsuspecting child. Letting go of my high expectations made it easier for me to accept my children for who they are. Once I accepted them fully, it gave them permission to just be who they are, flaws and all.
How do you build your child’s self-esteem without turning them into little narcissists? Please leave a comment, I would love to hear from you!