Kids Don’t Need Praise. But They Do Need This Instead.

When your kid does something you are happy about, what do you say to him or her?

Do you say, “Good girl!!! Good boy!!!”?

Do you say, “Good following directions!” or “You are such a good listener!”?

I know for me, some of those responses can be automatic.

Why do we say these things to kids?

We say these things because we want our kids to continue to behave. We say them because we want to increase their self-esteem.

What we don’t realize is that we are often doing the opposite by constantly praising our kids.

By constantly praising our kids, we are teaching our children to rely and depend upon the approval and opinions of other people.

Because what is the definition of praise?

  • to express favorable judgment of
  • to glorify
  • an expression of approval

Praise addresses the person and not the action. It recognizes perfection, it is patronizing, and it invites children to change because of or for another person and not from in internal locus.

So while we think we are helping our children by giving them lots of praise, we are not.

We are creating approval junkies who need praise from other people in order to feel good about themselves. And that is not encouraging confidence in one’s own worth or abilities and self-respect. Which is the definition of self-esteem.

Here is the other thing.

Would you speak that way to one of your friends?

If your friend saw you carrying a bunch of grocery bags inside and she went and grabbed some from the car to help you out, what would you say to her?

Would you say, “WOW! You are such a good helper!!!”

HA! No way!

Because it’s totally condescending.

But we talk in this patronizing way to our children. We don’t realize we are being patronizing to them when we do this. But we are.

A little praise, like a little candy, is fine. Everybody likes it. Kids love it.

But a lot of it is unhealthy.

It is not praise but encouragement that boosts our children’s self-esteem.

Encouragement means to inspire with courage. To spur on. To stimulate.

Encouragement addresses what our kids are doing. It recognizes effort and improvement. It is respectful and appreciative and it invites an inner direction. It teaches kids how to think, and not what to think.

Most importantly, it helps kids to feel worthwhile without other peoples’ approval.

And boy do I hope that is one gift I can give my kids before they leave the nest! I want them to feel good about themselves all on their own. No matter what anyone else says to them.

The next time your kid comes home with a good grade on a test or a project, try encouraging the behavior that helped them earn that grade.

You worked hard. You deserve it!

The next time your daughter helps you carry things in from the car, try

Thanks so much for the help. I really appreciate it!

The next time one of your kids shows you a Lego creation they’ve just made, try

How do you feel about it?

The next time your son gets a base hit in a little league game, say

You must be really proud of yourself!

Before you say something to your kids, ask yourself, Is this something I would say to my friends?

And if it’s not, reword it so it is.

Because praise, like candy, might be what your children want.

But encouragement is what they need.

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