Updated: Jan 31, 2022
It’s true! When over-praised, children can actually grow to expect praise every time they complete a simple task – and that’s just not how the real world works. Think about your day. Do you receive praise after making breakfast? Cleaning up after breakfast? Does someone pat you on the back and jump with joy because you combed your hair today? Probably not. Is that a bad thing? No, it's not - it's life. Certain things are expected of each of us. We all have daily tasks we need to perform in order for things to run smoothly. Some things warrant praise, others...not so much.
There's a Different Between Praise and Encouragement
Our children need encouragement (we all need encouragement!). Encouragement helps build up their confidence and helps them navigate tough times. I like encouraging others - especially when they seem to be struggling in a certain area, or if they have difficulty seeing their progress in something they've been working toward. I love seeing the surprise and happiness on people's faces when they are recognized for a job well done. I also like it when I am encouraged...it helps me continue working toward my goal, even when things are difficult. Encouragement helps us keep our eyes on the prize and helps us keep working toward our goals. Encouragement comes during the journey.
Praise can be a type of encouragement, but praise comes after an accomplishment. Your child finally cleans his room, you praise him and make him feel like a champ. Your daughter hits a home run and you brag about her to all your family members that night at dinner. Praise may not even have to be earned. Perhaps you have an adorable child with squishy cheeks and you tell him over and over again how adorable and cute he is. Some parents even praise hoped-for future accomplishments. (I always giggle inside when I hear parents of middle school students tell me their child is on track for a D1 scholarship in sports. 😜)
Too Much of a Good Thing?
When we over-praise or over-encourage our kids, we run the risk of growing kids who are full of themselves or egotistical. They may grow to believe that everything they do is right and they may feel superior to others. Each of us has areas in our lives that need a bit of work. We are all works in progress! We don’t want our children (or ourselves for that matter) to feel as though they have reached the pinnacle of success in any area. It’s at that point they quit working to get better. We should all be working every day to improve - there is always a “next” step
When we constantly praise our children, they grow to expect that encouragement from everyone, in all environments. This can create problems for them later in life. It may negatively impact their self-motivation to complete tasks - especially challenging tasks - independently. When they enter school, college, or the workforce, they may question their self-worth when they aren’t receiving the praise they are used to getting from us. We want to raise kids who are confident in themselves but who have a realistic view of themselves and their abilities.
"We most definitely need to be encouraging our kids and we need to be speaking truth and positivity into their lives."
What's an Encourager to Do?
We most definitely need to be encouraging our kids and we need to be speaking truth and positivity into their lives. Each of us needs a bit of encouragement every now and then. Be wise when delivering genuine and sincere encouragement and praise, and try not to overdo it.
If you see your child diligently working toward solving a difficult math problem and he’s gotten the wrong answer five times but is still working toward the answer, that poor guy needs some encouragement. When he finally works through that productive struggle, he needs praise! If you have an aspiring athlete who has been working toward a particular goal – a gymnastics stunt, or a better time in a race and they achieve their goal after hard work and determination, praise him!
When you do praise him, praise his work ethic and his grittiness – things in his control. Of course, we want to tell our kids how smart and advanced they are – and at times, those encouragements are warranted. But at the end of the day, we need to be encouraging and praising the kinds of social skills and soft skills our kids will need later in life – patience, problem-solving, hard work, endurance, integrity, etc.
My own son experienced this first hand. My family is a family of wrestlers. So, naturally, my sons grew up on a wrestling mat. By the time they were in middle school, they were very technical and very good. My oldest would go to the mat, hyper-focused, and get the job done – he was all business. My middle child, however, liked flashy moves and would attempt new moves even if it cost him a win. There was one match in particular in high school he easily won, but it was uncharacteristically sloppy. He was attempting to be flashy. When his opponent was on his back and the referee hit the mat to award my son the pin, the crowd cheered so loudly! My son’s hand was raised in victory, but his coach said nothing to him after the match. He stood at the edge of the mat shaking his head. No encouragement, no smile, nothing. He pulled my son aside and explained to him that a win means nothing if it isn’t done the right way. There are good wins, and bad wins, and while they both count toward your official record, they don’t both really count the same when looking at the big picture of mat time, improving your skills, and working toward winning the big matches. I appreciated that perspective and the fact that insincere encouragement and praise weren’t dished out over a simple win. He understood that there was more at stake and there was a bigger picture for my son.
"At the end of the day, we need to be encouraging and praising the kinds of social skills and soft skills our kids will need later in life – patience, problem-solving, hard work, endurance, and integrity."
Think Big Picture - What's Important?
Our kids are going to learn all kinds of academic content and skills throughout their educational careers. They are going to learn a lot about themselves and about their world. Let's not do them the disservice of raising them to think that they are superior to others and they have no room for improvement. We limit them and their potential when we praise them for things they don't necessarily deserve or haven't earned. We risk inflated egos, too. Be genuine - encouraging and praising the things that really matter in the long run - integrity, perseverance, honesty, and other soft skills that will help them to truly be successful in life.
Posted by Heather Hiple
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