We can so easily get caught up in the concept of praising our kids and making them feel good that we don’t stop to think of the repercussions of our words.  What are the consequences of ill-timed praise?  I believe it lowers our children’s standards – the standard that they hold in their own heart. 

 

Lets look at it….  When a child is given a task – be it an academic task or a moral task in the end, they know in their hearts to what standard they have been successful.  They know the attitude of their heart, they know if they did well, or if they did the barest necessity.  Then parent (or adult) comes along and says, “Good job!”  This confirms that the standard that they performed to is a standard good enough for mum and dad – or other adult. 

 

The praise (though intended for good) actually confirms a lower standard than is excellent.

 

In the past a lot of parenting styles would be labelled, these days, as authoritative or legalistic.  This style of parenting would have said very little when the child did succeed and said very much when the parent was disappointed.  I wonder if our ill-timed praise has come as a reaction, trying to find a balance to a more relational style parenting.

 

I believe the pendulum has swung too far.

 

The balance is in seeing what praise can do for a child.  Praise confirms the standard, confirms the moral rightness of an action rather than just making a child feel good about themself. 

 

The idea of making a child feel good about themself is slightly out of whack too – what does really make a child feel good about themself?  I believe it is when they know they are doing right – morally right.  When they can serve others instead of putting themselves first they will feel good about themselves and who they are.  When they stand up for a principle, even against the crowd, they will feel good about themselves, true to themselves.  Our praise, when it is aimed at anything less than the standard the children are aiming for only sends mixed messages.

 

To find the balance between no praise and excessive (damaging) praise is to see that we have many tools to train the hearts of our children to the moral standard we desire for them.  In wanting to do better than the authoritarian, strong, silent parent style, or the over the top reactionary parent, we need to realise that praise is not our only option.

 

If a child doesn’t quite reach the standard you or even himself is aiming for then there is room for training and that is a good thing.  Praising without the words to redirect them will only lower the standard.  I am not at all saying that a word of encouragement isn’t what is required but if we leave it at that, if we leave it at “Wow!  That is fantastic!”  when you really desire more for your child, how are they going to reach for more?

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