Yesterday while accompanying my son to his karate class, I read a book that taught me something interesting. By the way I am an avid reader, whenever I have a few spare minutes you'll find me reading a book. Reading is such a great pleasure! Imagine people that know so much of a subject, that spend years researching and then take the time to put the information all together for you!
Anyway... In this book I was reading a book titled: "Loving without Spoiling" by Nancy Samalin, I learned there are some specific ways on how to support and praise our children, in ways that actually help them instead of working against them.
It turns out that us parents want to make our children feel secure about themselves and so we repeatedly reinforce their self esteem with phrases like: "You are the best in the world". "WOW! Very good! You scored a goal! You are a champion!". "Excellent! You won the race! You are the best and the fastest!". "You are a very good boy, you finished your dinner"... etc
We even "help" our friends kids with phrases like: "Look at Pedro, he is so cute and good, he did his homework just right". "Oh! My! Hanna is such a smart girl she won the memory card game". "Manuel is so amazing, he can read a 20 page book incredibly fast!"
But .... are our words of praise really helping them? Or are we sending a double message here? Let's find out with some simple examples:
- "Wow Pierre is such a good kid! he always finishes all the food on his plate at lunch time" // meaning that the day his plate of food is not completely empty, he will turn into a bad and not so cute child.
- "Mikel! You scored a goal! You are a champion, you are the best!!!" // Which means that if in his next football match Mikel does not score a goal he will not be a champion.
- "Lucia you are such a smart girl! You solved all your math homework by yourself. Thank God I have a smart daughter" // But if next week Lucia can't finish her homework on her own she will no longer feel that is intelligent and valuable for her parents.
- "Nicolas you are such a good boy, you helped me carry the bags" - But if one day Nicolas doesn't help carry the bags he will not be a good boy.
See? Most of our praises are based on the result that we consider the correct or expected. But the value of a child is intrinsic. Only for existing and being them, they should be considered extremely valuable! And this is where we parents have an opportunity and a responsibility to help them feel that way.
This does not mean that we should stop flattering or telling them how valuable they are. We should simply change the focus of our words. Instead of making a judgment based on the successful outcome (and the one we expect), the praise should simply be from the action and the benefits that such action brought to the child. Leave out the competition scheme and reinforce the true value, which is in action: being, learning and participating. Not necessarily the result: win and be the best.
Here are the same examples, but with a different approaches:
- "Wow Pierre! You finished all the food on your plate! I'm sure your body feels strong and happy!"
- "Hey Mikel, it looks like you really enjoyed the match! It must feel great to have a sport you like so much!"
- "Lucia you finished the homework by yourself. Wow! That must feel really good"
- "Thanks Nico for helping with the bags, you realized I needed help."
Another great way of parsing is just showing our love in random moments during the day, without any relation to a particular action or outcome. Example:
I'm walking in the park with my son, I look at him hold his hand (making him feel loved and valued) and say: "Pierre you are such a cute and fun kid! I love you" - This makes him fell valued just for being (without having to do this or that) just for being him, thats it. And this is where the praise actually works.
If children feel valuable, without flattery being a consequence of some specific action we expect from them, they grow up with a healthy self-esteem! Because they know that if one day they loose a football match or flunk a math test or don't finish all the meat in their plate they are still smart, special, unique, loved and valued.
Make them feel loved and appreciated just for being them.
Thank You for your time and comments!