Empty praise is fast becoming the latest hot topic among parents. And of course there are strong opinions on both sides.
Some believe there is no such thing as empty or harmful praise. Others feel a child will be better served with no praise at all rather than the kind of praise they believe to be harmful.
The intention of praise is to raise your child’s self-confidence, self-esteem and self-image. Praising your child is done to make them feel special and appreciated. For every parent I know it is also a way to express their love.
So what could be harmful about any of that?
In parenting mindsets of past generations the belief was that if you were not number ‘one’, did not get an ‘A’ or did not receive the gold medal meant you lost. Period. Nothing else mattered except the win. And when you did not win there was no call for praise. In this way of thinking the best thing you could do for your child was to motivate them to strive to be THE BEST and accept nothing less.
What many of today's parents now understand is that focusing only on the win or to be the best actually works in reverse. In fact, statistics show that children who are taught that to not win means you failed quickly lose their motivation to try and in some cases interest.
In response to this revelation parents are taking a different approach.
We first need to understand that the most important element in our relationship with our children is trust. A mutual trust in fact. In order to grow and establish a trusting relationship we cannot ignore the basic necessary ingredient. Honesty. To gain our child’s trust it is imperative that we are always honest with them.
And so a child who is exposed to a mindset that says success equals being number '1' does not receive top place, and your response to him is “Great job!” it will not ring true in his mind. Not only will he be feeling he didn’t do a great job but he will quickly equate your response with the fact that you are his parents and you love him. In a child's mind this feels like 'empty' praise.
Just recently Kaitlyn had a friend over who was struggling with the fact that she didn’t make the school volleyball team. She was really coming down on herself. I asked her what her Mom had said and she replied, “She said I was really good and she thought I should have made the team.” And then she added, “But she’s my Mom, she is supposed to say that!”
That is a prime example of how children will learn to dismiss what parents say to their children and when praise can in fact be harmful.
As parents we want to encourage and support our children, we want to be there for them in their corner. But we also want to help our children strive to be the best they can be and that won’t happen when we shower them with empty praise.
As parents we must inspire and motivate our children to reach for their personal best. The second thing we can do is to be honest when situations occur like the one with Kaitlyn’s friend.
In that situation Kaitlyn’s friend’s Mom could have comforted her daughter in her disappointment for not making the team, sharing how proud she was of her daughter for trying her best. But to keep it honest and real pointed out that in order to play on the team every player is required to be able to serve 3 out 4 attempts making it over the net and that although she was very strong in her defensive skills her serves needed some work.
In that way, she was praising with honesty by mentioning her strong points but not ignoring the reason she was not placed on the team. An alert parent will find and point out areas in which praise is warranted and focus on that rather than the outcome…at the same time encouraging your child to place their efforts on areas that need improving in order to obtain their goal.
Responding in a truthful way builds credibility for your opinions and furthers the level of trust and honesty in your relationship. Praise that is unfounded is harmful, regardless of your good intention, however, praising for their efforts is always in order!
Denny Hagel is a child advocate and parent coach, devoting over 25 years to the success and well being of all children. She is the published author of over 150 articles on parenting, several of which have attracted international attention.
Denny was blessed with forward thinking parents who raised her with an understanding of her value as an individual, her innate power to choose by way of her thoughts, ideas, opinions and beliefs, thus, instilling in her a strong sense of personal responsibility for what happens in our lives
She is the founder of Awakened Parenting LLC, a company dedicated to helping parents release parenting paradigms of the past and consciously choose to raise their children to approach life with a positive mindset and strong sense of self. It is Denny’s passion to combine what she learned through her formal education in early childhood education and psychology and what her parents instilled in her and pass this on to all parents.
Denny has created the discussion group "Awakened Parenting Discussion Forum" on Face Book which now has nearly 600 members. She does on line coaching with parents and teachers who consult her on a regular basis. Denny collaborates with counselors, authors, coaches and others working in the parent coaching field. Denny Hagel is the author of the newly published "The C.P.R. Program for Parents & Teens: Conflict Prevention/Resolution Formula", "Mini-Me Syndrome" and two free e-booklets “Parenting Using the Law of Attraction” and “Becoming an Awakened Parent".