Being a parent means putting yourself out there for every conceivable bit of advice, input and, sometimes, criticism from others. It’s so hard to know what the ‘right’ thing to do is. So, often, we choose the right thing for us. And that’s not a bad thing. But, a little advice can go a long way, especially when we haven’t felt our ‘right’ yet.
Our generation is different to every other. We’re so aware of giving too much or giving too little, being friends with our children and being parents to them, guiding them but letting them find their own path, feeding them gluten- and sugar-free but trying to disguise them as treats. It’s exhausting. So, when it comes to praising them, it’s no wonder there’s some confusion. Do we praise every minor achievement to build their confidence and esteem? Or will that turn them into entitled brats? And, when you want to praise them, what’s the best way to do it? Words? Rewards? Sigh. I’m tired already.
Let’s make it simple.
– Too much praise can cause damage – we know how clever our kids are. Don’t underestimate their ability to see through the exaggerated praise for every little thing. This will only make them realise that your praise is shallow and not genuine; they’ll start losing trust in you.
– It is better to praise effort than natural ability – praising hard work encourages hard work. But, if your child is naturally good at singing, then always praising his or her singing might lead them to thinking that the only things worth pursuing are the things that come naturally. When something is too hard, they will likely give up trying. Rather, praise the effort that they put in. Then, they learn that acquiring skills and becoming good at something takes time, patience and dedication. When they don’t achieve their goal, they’re more likely to view themselves as learning, rather than failing.
– Linking praise to material rewards (money, Lego etc…) may be harmful – once they’ve got their reward, they may stop trying. Rather, give them an experience, something that’ll be meaningful and make for good memories.
How Should You Praise Your Children?
Praise the effort. If you want to praise their singing, focus on the hours of practice that they’ve put into it. Rather than saying, “You’re a natural singer,” opt for something like, “Wow, I heard you practicing all afternoon, it’s really paying off!”
If they feel like they’re not doing well in a certain area, again focus on the effort they can put in and remind them that even a bad mark or a negative comment from a friend is just a setback; it doesn’t need to freeze them and prevent them from trying harder. If your child thinks that his successes are due to natural talents, then he may think that he’ll never be good at the things he’s struggling with. But, if he knows that everything can be improved with some hard work, he’s more likely to try.
Constructive criticism is important too, even when our children are very little. Obviously, it needs to be given with love and support, not with a critical tone that will just crush them. Constructive criticism sounds like, “With a bit more practice, you’re going to be much more confident about your poetry,” or “I’ve seen how hard you work on your maths, and you’ve gotten good results from that. Maybe you need to put some of that effort into your poetry and then you’ll see better results.”
When you praise your kids appropriately and to the right degree, they’re more likely to come to you for advice on how to improve in other areas and then to accept that advice.
Physical Reward Ideas
There’s a time for physical rewards. The reward you choose for your child is a very personal thing – to both you and your little one. It’s best to reserve actual rewards (beyond verbal praise) for very special achievements – otherwise, you’ll have a very expensive obligation every time your child reaches any minor goal or milestone. And, it may seem like a bribe. So, when your child finishes a year at school, gets a certificate for dancing, or wins the prize in horse jumping, consider some of these reward suggestions:
For young children:
– A hot chocolate after dinner.
– Turn their favourite song up loud and have a dance-a-thon in the middle of the afternoon.
– An extra 15 minutes on the iPad or in front of the TV.
– Do a puzzle or play their favourite board game together as a family.
– Build a tent or fort in their room and let them sleep there for the night.
For older children:
– A family hike, finished off with a picnic at a location of their choice.
– Camp in the garden, complete with S’mores and creepy stories.
– A weekend sleepover with their bestie.
– Dessert before dinner.
– An extramural class they’ve been keen on or supplies for their hobby.
At the end of the day, we’re all doing the best we can. It’s a rollercoaster, and we’re going to feel like we failed sometimes. On those days, apply the same principles – praise your effort, see it as a minor hump in the road, and try harder tomorrow.
Guest post by Amelia Meyer
Amelia is a freelance writer, wife and mom. She is based on the gorgeous Garden Route and blogs at Suddenly a Mom when she’s not ear-deep in projects for clients. She is also an owner, copywriter and editor at Voxate.