Praising Kids Right

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We speak thousands of words in a day. With many of them, we try to encourage a positive self-image in our children or grandchildren:

“Good job, buddy” when he successfully builds a tower with blocks.

“You did great!” when she adds the final puzzle piece.

“You’re so strong” when he makes it across the crossing bars.

“You’re a good helper” when he hands you clean flatware from the dishwasher.

But what if our praise has an effect exactly opposite to what we want to accomplish? What if we’re not helping children feel good about themselves at all?

Researchers, parenting experts, and educators all suggest there are perils in too much praise and the wrong kind of praise.

Too Much Praise

We give children too much praise when we do it almost without thinking and when we give it whether anything praiseworthy has actually happened.

Children begin to tune out praise when it is insincere. The painting really isn’t amazing and beautiful, and the child, who has painted a few truly amazing pictures, knows it.

At the same time, children can become “praise junkies,” needing their parents’ constant approval rather than valuing their own accomplishments and depending on their own judgments. The result is a child who believes worth is tied to performance and who fears failure—and becomes reluctant to try new things or face challenges.

Children DO need encouragement and praise—but let’s make it the right kind.

The Right Kind of Praise

Experts say to praise the process, not the person.

Person praise focuses on the child’s traits, like intelligence or musical ability—“You’re a good boy”; “You’re so smart”; “You’re really good at this.”

Process praise focuses on the child’s effort and output and doesn’t make a judgment. It gives the child feedback with specific information—“You used a lot of colors in your drawing”; “I can see you are thinking hard about how to build your sandcastle”; “You helped your sister up when she fell. That was kind.”

Person praise reduces motivation; children begin to feel that their abilities are fixed and there is no reason to try to go beyond them. The Bible is right when it says, “A flattering mouth causes ruin” (Proverbs 2:28)!

Process praise encourages children to take on challenges, confront weaknesses, and grow. It also communicates family values.

I’ve never counted the number of times I say “Good job, buddy” when I’m with one of my grandsons, but I know it’s a lot. Changing this habit is going to take some work!

This will be my last post here at Christian Children’s Authors. I have enjoyed being part of this community! Please visit and follow me there.

When Fear Overtakes

It was just a simple misunderstanding, but even after it had been cleared up, it took my heart a little time to relax and my mind to slow down enough that I could drift off to sleep. The wee hours of the morning had crept in and my very responsible young adult daughter wasn’t home yet. It wasn’t like her to be out so late, especially on a night before she had to get up for work the next day. Long story short, I texted her and didn’t get a reply. I finally called her. Twice. When she answered the second call, it sounded like I had awoken her. She was safe, sleeping at a friend’s house and thought she had texted me to let me know. I never got the text.

woman in dark

But this blog isn’t about my daughter. It’s about how fear gripped my heart and squeezed until I thought I’d have a heart attack. I’m not usually a worrier. I normally go to bed and sleep as soundly as a teenager on a school morning. I don’t worry about her because she has never given me reason to. She communicates when plans change or if things are going down differently than they normally do.

I can’t explain why I was so worried. Something just didn’t feel right. My mind started spinning out of control. What if she was kidnapped, attacked, or had a car accident? This is when it isn’t good to be a creative writer. I imagined cryptic texts she might send as she sneaked a message to me behind her captors’ backs. I pictured solemn-faced police showing up at my front door with the unthinkable news that there’d been a horrific accident. I pictured my face on the six o’clock news explaining the tragedy. I tried to convince myself that she was fine, that she’d just fallen asleep at her friends’ house before she had a chance to contact me. But that quiet voice of reason only whispered, while noisy fear shouted.

scared childSo what did I do? First, I found myself comforting my uneasy heart with the same things I used to soothe my daughter’s nighttime fears when she was a little girl. I recited this scripture from Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you” (NASB). We used to sing that song at bedtime to drive away any fears that might creep in. You can listen to it here: . I told myself that my fears were just made up. They weren’t any more real than the things children fear in the night. I breathed deep and slow. I shared my fear with my husband who assured me our daughter was just fine.

My fears held resolutely on.  It wasn’t until I heard her sleepy voice on the other end of the phone that its grip loosened. She was fine, apologetic, and would be home after work tomorrow. “Okay. I just needed to know you are safe.”

I was calm, loving, reassuring to her. After I hung up, tears stung my eyes and I heaved a giant sigh. I went up the stairs and into my dark bedroom. As I crawled under the covers my husband turned to me and even in the dark, I knew his eyes held question marks.

“I talked to her. She’s fine.”

My breathing slowed, my heartbeat relaxed, and soon I was asleep.

Tell us in the comments how you deal with fear, whether reasonable or unreasonable, real or imagined?

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