Stop praising me…
I need to learn how to live in the REAL world!!
We live in a culture where a certificate, a medal, a blue ribbon, a gold star, a trophy, or at minimum an enthusiastic “Good job!” has become commonplace and even expected when children participate in an activity, regardless of their effort or outcome. But this is killing the emotional stability of our children, and not preparing them AT ALL for life after they are out from under our wing. Here’s why…
The problem with ‘praise’ is that it can only come from an external source, which means the child learns to look outwardly for validation and approval.
Praise is also judgemental, and teaches children to buy into the opinions of others. They come to rely on external praise rather than develop internal motivation or confidence in their emerging abilities.
They stop doing things because they should or they can, and instead, they do them for the recognition. Which is all well and fine while the recognition is available… but what happens when the praise is taken away (ie. in the real world)? How will they know they are good enough then?
Sadly, as soon as the praise becomes absent, they begin to automatically assume they are NOT good enough, hence the reason they are not being praised… and so begins the small voice inside their head, and the downward spiral of self-esteem, self-worth, self-love and self-belief.
Children who come to rely on praise take fewer risks, because they are unwilling to lose their praise-worthy status. When children seek praise (consciously or unconsciously) they tend to avoid anything they won’t get ‘right’. This is unfortunate because mistakes, trial and error, and risk-taking are critical elements of any learning process, and a healthy self-esteem.
Praise is always too general for it to be self-validating to the child. The child buys into your belief rather than confirming a belief he/she already had of their own.
For example, rather than believing their work is good, they can’t be sure of it until they check with you first. So they bring it to you for your opinion (it is not a truth. It is only an opinion!). If you say it is good, then they’ll believe it is good too, and perhaps they’ll settle even though they could have done better. If you don’t believe it is good, nor will they, and if they did originally, they will delete that belief and believe yours instead. They will wait for you to pass your judgement, and then adopt the same belief.
Then, they’ll be programmed to live their entire lives like this, and wonder why the happiness they are in search of continues to elude them!!
Let’s be really honest… when you praise a child, you are typically doing one of two things…
a) you are being fake just so you can make the child feel good – but their spirit can feel this, and it only teaches them to be incongruent with what they really know is true, because you are someone they trust, so they believe you before they believe the feeling inside their own spirit,
b) you are giving them YOUR opinion on something they did. But who says you are right? What right do you have to pass judgement anyway? Why should we teach our children to believe something is good enough just because we say it is? All this does is teach them how to be “people-pleasers”, which can only lead to a very unfulfilled life!
If we are going to raise congruent, authentic, true-to-themselves children, we must help them shape their OWN beliefs!!
Here are some examples of praise:
- “You’re such a good girl”
- “You did it just like I told you to.”
- “All A’s? You deserve a reward.”
- “I’m glad you listened to me.”
- “You really know what makes me proud.”
- “I’m proud of you.”
- “Good girl/boy”
- “You’re amazing”
As children age, if they only define themselves by good grades, winning, or any time they receive praise, they’ll feel less competent or worthy when these things are absent (i.e. the real world).
So what should we do instead?
As an alternative to praising an outcome or the child themselves, we should offer encouragement for their efforts and attitudes.
Encouragement can be inspirational and motivating – a gentle, supportive nudge that helps children meet important goals – instead of self-defining and limiting.
Encouragement is specific. For example, “That was very kind of you to clean up your toys without being reminded” rather than generic praise such as “You are wonderful”.
Encouragement focuses on behaviour, NOT outcomes or the person themselves. For example, “You came up with a very creative solution” rather than “You are so smart”.
Encouragement is empowering. There are no conditions and it isn’t judgemental. The receiver is encouraged to make judgements of their own behaviour, work, and ultimately, their worth.
Here are some examples of encouragement:
- “I really appreciate your help.”
- “I knew you could do it.”
- “You did your best and you didn’t give up.”
- “You must be proud of yourself.”
- “I have faith in you.”
- “I trust your decision.”
- “Wow! Check you out! I can tell you feel good about yourself on this one!”
- “I love you no matter what.”
- “You don’t need me to help with that. I know you can do it without my help. You’ll work it out”
- “It was tough, but you stuck to it”
- “You must be proud of yourself for accomplishing so much”
- “I am proud FOR you” (rather than “I am proud OF you”)
- “Tell me what you think of your picture…” “…what I like the most about it, is that YOU are proud of it. That’s what I like to see!”
- “Well, how do you think you did? What do you think of your work? What would you do differently if you had a chance to do the work again?” (rather than YOU giving YOUR opinion on what they should change or do differently).
That’s not to say that you should never use praise, either. But think of praise like a big, thick piece of chocolate cake. It tastes great and is good every once in a while. But we couldn’t survive just eating cake…
Encouragement is the nourishment for our soul. It is what our emotional body needs to sustain itself. It takes some effort, particularly because most of us were not raised this way, and so we have to re-write all the “scripts” on the inside of our minds. But in the long run, you will be building strong, healthy individuals who are able to look to themselves to make decisions and know the answers.