Do you ever long for a pat-on-the-back? Someone to tell you you’re doing a good job? You don’t need a bunch of praise. Just to know that your efforts are appreciated and maybe even good. If you said no, you are lying. People need affirmation. Kids need affirmation. We need another human to speak the words, “Nicely done!” The question is not: should you praise your kids? Rather, how, when, and for what?
Praise your kids.
I get tired of reading about over praising children. The self esteem movement ruined everything when it began in the early 70’s. It’s destructive power was not in accuracy but in the aftermath. We began hearing how over indulging our kids in praise left them lazy and complacent. Parents are left to wonder what they should and should not praise. What is it I should and should not be doing to ensure my kids will be hard-working, intelligent, compassionate, selfless, saints? Ah. Ah-hem… whoops, I laughed-out my coffee writing that.
OK. I’ve composed myself. You can’t ensure anything. The concern is, rather than offer appropriate praise, parents shrink back into silence, afraid to give credit where credit is due. For fear of growing up lazy, complacent young adults.
Smarts. Giftings. Talents. Obedience. Ability. Effort. All good reasons to praise. Walking the tight rope of praise is not nearly as complex as fancy-pants, stiff-necked, highly degree-d folks make it out to be. There is one short little sentence. A single tip. To successfully navigate the muddy waters of praise. We’ll get to that shortly.
Seems like well-intended parents hold back praise due to their misunderstanding of the word. In this corner, let me introduce you to praise. His purpose is to worship, glorify and exalt. Over here, hiding in the other corner with a black eye, meet praise. Her objective is to compliment, pat on the back and commend. Bleck. That was boring. It had to be done.
So what about that list of pat-on-the-back worthy traits?
Yes. Obedience. Don’t like the word? Conjure up images of dog-training, does it? Get over it. A child who doesn’t run out into the parking lot after being told to stay close to mommy… is a good thing! Want some synonyms to make it an easier pill to swallow? Compliance. Observance of a rule. There ya go.
First time obedience is a goal. Goals are achieved, not instilled at birth. “Thank you for your right-away obedience.” “Your right-away obedience kept you safe.” “You benefit the whole family team with your right-away obedience.” Offer praise when steps are made toward the goal of obedience.
Once during a mild Tennessee fall evening, my children were preparing for an night spent camping under the stars. The temperature was perfect. The weekend had come. Responsibilities were tended to. The evening was a mix of excitement and sighs of content. My son has become quite good at starting a camp fire. He’s fine-tuned the art of layering, stacking and lighting the blaze.
However, this particular evening it was my daughter who impressed us with her fire starter abilities. Not because she carefully crafted the kindling and logs. She did not put much forethought and planning into what she was doing. Her strategy for a rip roaring fire? Her skilled technique for flames 3 feet high? Dump handful after handful of straw on the small flicker. Turn the flicker into a raging flame!
Her response, when I asked her what in the world she was doing? “Mom, if you want a fire, you gotta start one!” And it worked.
Strategy. Careful skill. Method. They have their place in success. None of that is necessary unless a flicker is fanned into a loud crackling flame. Or in this case, pouring yourself into something so heavily that it has no choice but to succumb to your vision of triumph. Effort. Offer the loudest of applause for effort. “Crazy nice job putting all you had into that!” By the way. If someone truly puts all they have into something, it’s rare that it won’t be great.
Does this really need to be discussed?
If you had to choose between an employee who was upstanding, trustworthy, honest and truthful in his dealings with others, one who goes above and beyond, and does excellent work—and one who lacks these qualities—which would you keep on the payroll?
Keeping a job. Succeeding at a career. Making friends. Maintaining friendships. Not possible without good character.
“Great job lifting that person up with your kind words! You represented your family well with that positive action! Great job reflecting Jesus with selflessness!” Commend good character when it’s displayed.
A child’s abilities encompass their intellect, gifts and talents. If they’re good at it due to hours of practice, it’s an ability. If they have always been keen to a skill, making it bestowed by God, it’s an ability. These things largely define us. Ask someone to describe you. They’re likely to pick something you’re good at as a way to identify. As it happens, many of our friendships are born of common interests or abilities.
Praising ability is an area people are uncomfortable with. Likely, because it should sound like: “I really enjoy listening to you play the piano. God gave you such a gift for music. Great job using your ability!” Not like: “You’re such great piano player.” The first example digs deep. Showing them they are benefiting someone else. Reinforces where our ability comes from. Promotes the need to activate the abilities we have. The second example is surface-y. Makes very little impact.
They are who they are. On purpose. For a purpose.
Joe McGee is a gifted speaker and teacher. He wasn’t afraid to tell his kids growing up, that they weren’t good at something. Having one daughter who wanted to enter the field of accounting, he said, “you stink at math!” He followed that up with “you have the gift of gab. A more social, interactive career is for you.” He approached all 6 of his children this way. Not afraid to tell them they weren’t good at something. Certainly not holding back affirmation of the areas they were gifted in. They’re all successful in their adult lives now.
Parents are a child’s #1 cheerleader. The child who is a bit loud/reserved/sassy/shy can grow to embrace who she is with the right affirmation. Training her how to use her gift correctly.
“The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.”
Each child has a life of purpose. Many adults miss out on their purpose all together. Why the heck is that? Insecurity. Fear of failure and rejection. Low Self Worth. To name a few.
“You were created just. like. you. are. on purpose. Failure and rejection happen, it has everything to do with learning and nothing to do with you. No one else can do what you can do. You have to do it or it won’t happen.” Cheer-leading!
One easy way to know what to praise.
I stated earlier that there was a really easy way to know what is deserving of praise when training a child. It’s so simple, it seems ridiculous to add it. Surely everyone knows this. Right?
Certainly everyone understands that praise is proper each and any time your child does something you want them to do again!
Do I want them to do this again? If the answer is yes, praise the fire out of it.
Here’s the thing: I’m not talking, “good job junior.” I’m talking happy dance, sing a song, jump up and down, kind of praise. Praise that sounds like: “You worked so hard on that. You accomplished it. Learned that song/pooped in the toilet/got an A+/put your sister’s wants before your own. You made a great choice!” Dancing. Singing. Whooping it up. Not one to dance and sing? Learn to be. Get over yourself. While kids see your silliness what they feel is; I brought mom joy!
It’s not your job alone.
Parents can’t be the sole provider of affirmation for their kids forever. They really can’t be the sole provider from the start. Disappointment is inevitable. Kids are human too. No matter the amount of great things they accomplish. The level of love and selflessness they show. They will mess up. An affirmation greater reaching than our own is necessary. Essential. There is One who is never frustrated by their actions. Never questions their purpose. A steadfast, never changing, all consuming Love they must be introduced to.
Of all the examples of good ways to give appropriate praise to a child. The most powerful sounds like this: “you are a mighty man of God. You were created on purpose, with a purpose by a God who knows every little thing about you. No one else in all the world can do what He created you to do. You please Him.”
It’s not His job alone.
Humans have a God sized hole in their chest. Teaching a child how to fill it with an immeasurable love is the only way to sustain them throughout their lives.
Leading a child to understand their purpose is a significant part of your purpose. “Train up a child in the way he should go….” How to pray. What their talents are. Worship. Speaking kindly. Eating the right food. Talking to people. Sleeping habits. Cooking. Cleaning. Learning. The list is long. Fortunately you have a good long while to accomplish this. But no time to waste.
How will they learn what you don’t teach them? The hard way. Or not at all.
People need affirmation. They need another human to speak the words, “Nicely done!” You need it. I need it. Our children need it. It’s not a question of if, but of how much? When? What kind? and For what?