Last week I wrote about some of the problems with artificial rewards and insincere praise for our kiddos. Those are things we strive to avoid in our house, but I do find myself falling into the empty praise, sometimes.
Here’s an example of what we don’t want:
Pumpkin had been coloring some really pretty pictures and showing them to me. I said, “Good job” and she would go do another one. After several, she didn’t smile when I said “good job”, she got a thoughtful look on her face and went back to her papers and crayons. She grabbed a new piece of paper and a blue crayon. She spent about 5 seconds scribbling and walked over to show it to me. “Is this a good job, Mama?”
I realized that she had figured out that “good job” didn’t really mean anything, anymore. I said it because that is what parents are “supposed” to say when their kids do something. Kids are smarter than we think, and they know when they are being patronized. I decided that “good job” should be saved for when she truly does a good job… I’m still struggling with remembering not to say it, though!
When and How to Praise a Child
Like I said last week, praise should be reserved for when a child does something that is truly praiseworthy! This does not include “please” and “thank you”. I believe we should always ask kindly and say thank you, regardless of a person’s age. This also doesn’t mean that a child’s best effort shouldn’t be praised because they haven’t done something perfectly.
When a child makes a sincere effort in something, give them sincere praise in return!
- Give them your full attention
- Be specific about what they have done well
- Ask them questions about it
- BE HONEST!
If your child hasn’t really tried and they ask you if they’ve done well (like in my story above), don’t lie, but don’t make them feel unloved, either. When Pumpkin asked if she had done a good job on her 5 second scribble, I knew she hadn’t really tried. I knew she was capable of much, much more. I decided that rather than praise or criticize, I would make a neutral comment. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like, “Oh, I see you used the blue crayon.” Then I found one of her drawings that she had put real effort into and told her how much I loved the colors and shapes she had done.
Why to Praise
The purpose isn’t to make you or them feel all warm and fuzzy. The purpose is to encourage them to strive to keep moving forward. To learn and to grow. That is why we are supposed to encourage each other as believers, right? We speak words to build each other up, but to do that those words have to be true. It’s the same for children. Speaking the truth in love isn’t just for adults. Empty praise and flattery shouldn’t have a place in any of our relationships, least of all with our children who look to us to learn the truth.
“A job well done is it’s own reward.” We’ve all heard that quote, or something similar, right? Well, it’s true. One of our jobs as parents is to prepare our children for real life. As I said last week, bribes and artificial rewards don’t do that. Neither will spouting to our kiddos the above quote. 😉 What we need to do is teach them how to see the worth of what they are doing. How do we do that?
- DO NOT speak negatively about your own “jobs” (laundry, cooking, etc.), because they will pick that up from you!
- Talk about the natural rewards of your jobs, especially with younger children– “Mama is doing the laundry so that we all have nice, clean clothes to wear! Daddy is going to love to have lots of clean socks! Come help Mama match Daddy’s socks.” Little ones LOVE this kind of thing!
- Talk about the natural rewards of their “jobs”— “Putting your books in the bookshelf is such a good thing. It keeps them safe so the pages don’t get torn and you know right where they are when you want to read!” My daughter often tells me what a “good idea” it is to clean things and put things away.
- If a child has done something truly extraordinary and you want to make a big deal out of it, don’t reward, CELEBRATE! Instead of “we’re taking you out to dinner because you did ________” say, “We’re all going out to dinner so that we can celebrate ______!” Instead of making the child the center of the universe, let them know that you are rejoicing with them (“rejoice with those who rejoice”). This binds the family closer rather than making the child feel entitled or superior.
- Remember that children will feel valued when they know that they are loved without condition AND that what they do is a real contribution to the family!
Real rewards and sincere praise (encouragement) means so much more to children than 100 “good job”s and gold stars a day! Now, if I can just toss that “good job” from my everyday vocabulary… 🙂