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The problem with praising children

Answers from YouthZoneDebbie Wilde

Over the years, parents have tried every angle that can possibly be imagined to get their children to do what they want them to do. One method frequently used is to heap praise upon a child.The idea is that praising a positive behavior will assure that behavior continues. I think parents also feel praising a child raises the child’s self-esteem. There is a madness to this method, however; there are problems with praise.We manipulate with praise. It becomes a tool to get our children to do what we want them to do. Manipulating praise is insincere and can only result in hurting the adolescent.Praise increases envy among those who aren’t praised. Sibling rivalry intensifies. Often a parent is unaware he praises one child in the family more than another, but this will not go undetected by the siblings. If sibling rivalry is a real issue in your family, check to see if this is what is fueling the fires.Praise states our expectations. We usually praise for some achievement and the unspoken message is that if the youth doesn’t continue to achieve, we will withdraw our praise. To many young people, this means withdrawing love.Youth begin to feel praise is their due. It becomes expected for routine chores. Praise becomes a reward and leaves no room for a sense of personal accomplishment. Praise can actually have a negative effect on one’s self-esteem.What one does is validated from outside himself. If the rest of the world – teachers, friends, and eventually employers and spouses – do not constantly praise him or her, his or her confidence is shaken. Praise has become the way he or she associates with feelings he or she is an OK person.Our goal instead should be to encourage our children. While praise focuses on achievement, encouragement focuses on effort. It is much more rewarding to a young person to be encouraged for the effort he or she puts into getting good grades or playing a sport than to be praised for A’s and home runs. The youth that sees his or her worth in A’s or feels his hitting home runs is devastated when he or she gets a B or strikes out.Recognition and appreciation are important. They express how the youth’s actions affect or benefit us. The key lies in describing the benefits from acceptable behavior. Instead of “John, you cleaned the garage. That’s great!” try, “John, I appreciate your cleaning the garage! It looks good, and now I can get the car in.”Tell your children why and how they have done something well or to benefit you. This gives them a way to win again. John will know that clearing a space for the car is important and appreciated. You can bet that anytime he cleans the garage he will be sure to make a space for the car – this kind of feedback gives a child something concrete on which to develop self-esteem and judgment.Debbie Wilde is executive director of YouthZone. Editor’s Note: Family Life normally runs on Sundays, but appears today due to technical problems over the weekend.


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