Once in a while, my oldest (4) walks up to me and says, “Mom, are you proud of me?” or “Mom, are you happy with me?” This warms my heart. I love seeing how much joy and satisfaction our kids get out of knowing that my husband and I love them and are proud of them.
But it also reminds me that parents have a big responsibility in raising our kids. They listen to what we tell them. They want to please us. The things we say and do indicate what is important to us and, in turn, shape our children’s understanding of reality and where their own self worth lies.
In other words, a lot of our praise boils down to being happy when our child shows exceptional talent, is the best at something, or wins something. I’m not saying this is wrong all together – there’s definitely value in encouraging our kids to bring out the best in themselves. BUT… this sort of praise comes along with a host of implications we don’t necessarily want, such as:
- I get most excited when you’re perfect, or at least very, very good at something
- Being first (at anything) is the most important thing
Basically, this type of praise teachings a child that they are valued for WHAT they do, their achievements. That’s great as long as they’re high achievers and doing well, but how does it make a child feel when they’re failing at something or are incapable of doing something well, incapable of competing at a certain level, etc.? Are they any less valued?
I’m not suggesting to stop praising our kids for great achievements. Achievements are something to be proud of, and it’s important for our kids to know that we recognize their achievements. I AM suggesting, however, that this type of praise be secondary.
When our son started asking me on occasion if I was proud of him, and I began thinking about what is really most important to me, what I want to pass on to my kids. My encouragement means a lot to them; I want to make sure it leads them in the right direction and helps them develop a healthy self-confidence rooted not in passing achievements, but in their identity and values.
So I still tell my son that his achievements (at this point in time, that’s things like jumping up and down on one foot and learning to fold his own clothes) are wonderful, but I give him much MORE praise and encouragement when he does things like
- helping his little brother or sister
- “forgiving” someone (needless to say, at the ripe old age of four, he doesn’t really understand what this means yet, but he is learning appropriate ways of reacting to things that offend him and how to respond when someone else apologizes to him)
- stopping on his own to say a prayer and ask Jesus or Mary to help him (I really think the prayers little children say must absolutely MELT the heart of God – they definitely melt my heart!)
- noticing and responding to the needs of others
- learning and discovering new things
- communicating his own thoughts and feelings
All of these things make me much happier, and are much more important to me than how well he draws a rooster. Don’t get me wrong – I get excited about the rooster too, but there is a hierarchy, and core Christian values like kindness, mercy and forgiveness, and a self-confidence in their own worth come higher on the list.