I try not to praise my kids.
I know that every parenting magazine under the sun tells you to lather on the praise nice and thick. After all, don’t kids need praise to build their self-esteem?! Doesn’t praise build their confidence and make them feel good?!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but all this praise we’ve been showering our kids with is actually doing more harm than good.
The problem with praise, in a (rather large) nutshell:
1. Praise is judgement
Even though we think praise is a good thing, it’s just another form of judgement. It’s all about what the PARENT is thinking or feeling and has nothing to do with the CHILD’S effort and improvements.
- “You’re amazing!”
- “Good boy!”
- “That’s perfect!”
Each of these statements is saying, “I approve of you” or “Yes, you’ve met my standards.” With praise, we’re robbing our kids of their efforts and improvements and making everything all about US and what WE think.
Let’s swap “Good boy!” with “You worked so hard on that!” or “Look at the progress you’ve made!”
Let’s stop making everything all about us.
2. Praise is a form of external reward
Praise is all about seeking approval from outside sources. It’s like a little gold star screaming, “Look! I’m good enough! Mom told me so!” or “Did you hear that? Mrs. Smith says I have the prettiest painting!”
The problem with praise as a “reward” is that some people become dependent on the opinions of others to feel good about themselves. They become people pleasers and praise junkies. They will do just about anything to hear that they’re a “good girl.”
I am a recovering “praise junkie” myself.
There was a time in my life when I fed off of the approval of others. I thrived on it! Praise was like a drug! It felt so good!
But then what happened when I didn’t get my “reward?” When the praise I was used to getting went away?
How did I feel about myself then?
Let’s just go with not good.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, all I can tell you is that it is a really gross feeling. Dependency on praise and the approval of others sucks the life right out of the most enjoyable things.
You start viewing others’ opinions as being more important than your own. Nothing is “good enough” unless someone else says it’s “good enough.”
No thanks. My kids don’t need that.
Let’s raise our kids knowing that they are wonderful just the way they are. Let’s raise them to feel good about themselves from the inside out.
3. Praise creates the need to be constantly validated
When someone is used to being praised, they develop the need to be constantly validated. They lose the ability to trust their own internal compass and instead rely on others to gauge whether something is “good enough.”
Children start thinking things like:
- “Mom didn’t say she liked my drawing today. That must mean she doesn’t like it as much as my other one.”
- “Oh, man! I only got a B- ! Dad is going to be so disappointed in me!”
- “Coach Monty didn’t say he liked my skating today. I guess I’m not very good, after all…”
And then those children grow up and start asking:
- “Do I look good in this?”
- “Do you think I should buy those shoes?”
- “Do you think I’m smart enough to go back to school?”
- “What should I say?”
- “How should I handle that?”
I know I’ve said “yuck” already, but I’m going to say it again.
Let’s raise our kids to trust their own instincts. Let’s raise them to make their own decisions.
Let’s raise them to seek validation from within.
4. Praise leads to discouragement
When someone is used to being praised and has become dependent on outside validation, they tend to give up easily. They have the mistaken belief that if they can’t be the “best” then it’s not worth trying.
Even if they do work up the courage to try something new, if they struggle in the slightest, they give up. They would rather not try at all than try and screw up.
Screwing up is just too big a blow to the ego. Screwing up means no one is going to be saying “Good girl” or “You’re awesome.”
So why bother?
Let’s raise our kids knowing that every effort is “worth it” and that trying is the first step to achieving greatness. Let’s raise them to embrace their mistakes as opportunities to learn something new.
Let’s raise them to say “Let’s try that again, mom” and “I just want to work on this section a bit more, dad. I’ve almost got it!”
Let’s raise them to not give up.
So What Now?
Worried that all of your “Good girls” and “You’re awesomes” are ruining your kids’ lives?
Fear not, my friends.
There is an alternative!
By using encouragement, rather than praise, you can build your kids up, show your confidence in them, notice their improvements and support them through life’s challenges. By encouraging your kids, you will help them develop their sense of self-worth without relying on the opinions of others for outside validation.
The best part?
You can swap out your praise for encouragement TODAY.
What really helped me get started was putting reminders on my fridge of what I should be saying instead of my typical “You’re so smart” and “You’re the best.”
I compiled all of my little scraps of paper and organized them into this handy “cheat sheet”. Feel free to print it off and stick it to your fridge, in your playroom, or anywhere you think you might need some guidance or help learning the language of encouragement.
It might feel a little weird or awkward at first, but don’t give up! You will get used to being encouraging and before you know it “You can do it!” and “Look at the progress you’ve made!” will roll right off your tongue. 😉
As always, please feel free to share with others! Let’s start building up our kids from the inside out!
A huge acknowledgement to Alyson Schafer, whose book Honey, I Wrecked the Kids got me off of praise and learning the language of encouragement. Another shout-out to Jane Nelsen and her book Positive Discipline. Her chart comparing praise and encouragement has a permanent place on my refrigerator 😉