In our country we have developed a culture where rewards come too easily. I have seen children’s sport leagues where everyone gets a trophy. I have heard of birthday parties where siblings got “birthday” presents so their feelings weren’t hurt even though it wasn’t their birthday! So how can children get real praise and recognition for their true skills in this culture of ubiquitous rewards? If rewards come so easily, how can children get a true sense of themselves and what they are good at? We live in the “age of don’t disappoint”. As a result we are raising children of excess. Whether they earn it or not they receive it. Whether it is their turn for recognition or not they get it. So in this world of ubiquitous reward and recognition, what is true praise? When is it deserved? What should we be trying to achieve for our children with praise, recognition and rewards? In other words, what is praise anyway?
Praise is something said to another in recognition for a true skill, or achievement that comes from that individual’s ability. It is important for children to hear praise because it supports them in building an identity around their true skills. When praise works well in young childhood we see the development of confident individuals who have a good sense of their skills. They feel good about themselves and know what parts of their inner being they should value. So how can parents work towards giving their children truly deserved praise?
Parents need to be keen observers of their children. All children are different and have different skills. It is important for parents to have openness towards their children to hear and see their individual skills. It is amazing what kids show us when they know there is an open acceptance of their ability.
Open observation needs to be combined with acute perception of what they really enjoy doing. We tend to pigeon hole boys (and now girls) into certain sports and girls into cheering or dance. But, especially in younger years we need to look for what brings a flicker to their eyes or a joy to their hearts. Young kids need to be exposed to different areas that include singing, music, dance and arts. It is sad but true that school programs won’t be enough to bring out these interests in children.
We need to recognize our children’s accomplishments – even relatively small ones. Showing courage and overcoming a fear, showing poise, or even controlling negative reactions all need acknowledgement from parents.
We must allow for periods of disappointment. We shouldn’t falsely bolster a talent or interest where there isn’t any. This can set up a harmful dynamic where children keep participating in an activity just to please the parent. If a child has the drive for that area of interest, they will naturally overcome disappointment. In either case, children need to sort out their feelings over effort, interest, achievement and failure.
Once we see their true interest, we need to help provide opportunities to foster that interest. We can’t necessarily assume that opportunities to use their skills will present themselves. Some skills will be developed in school and play. Others need to have specific activities in order to develop their talent. Lessons, teams and even hobbies serve the purpose of skill development outside of school.
Through all of this, children need praise for both general achievements and specific skills. Getting off to school on time, helping around the house or even taking care of a pet needs praise. Everyone is capable of these. But acknowledgement of your child’s contribution is important. Specific praise is needed in areas of particular skill. “Boy you are great at building with legos” or “You are great at organizing things with your friends.” These kind of comments let children know that you are noticing them for their skills and for who they are.
Parents need to think positive. We tend to emphasize the negative and correct our kids too often. Kids need praise from us. It is important to their growth in character. With a little effort we can learn to be keen observers and give our kids genuine praise. With that our kids may still live in a world of excess but at least they will learn what is of value to them as individuals.