I don’t believe we should be praising our kids.
I can pretty much hear you reeling back from the screen with disbelief, “What is this man ON ABOUT?” There’s nothing wrong with a “Good job, son” is there?
I’m suggesting that maybe there is. Here’s why praise may be robbing your kids of their happiness.
Praise can undermine self-esteem
There might be no obvious harm in a “good job”, but there’s also little value in it. This type of praise doesn’t do anything for your child’s self-esteem, and what’s worse, it fails to teach your children to do anything for the significance of the doing or for their own satisfaction.
I have two daughters and a newborn son. When my little girl comes skipping up to me to show me her painting I get down to one knee – to her eye level. I say to her:
“How much do you love your painting?
You must be feeling really creative and colourful right now.
Why did you choose those colours?”
I tap on her tiny chest, right where her heart lies and I ask her;
“Wow, how inspired do you feel right now?”
In that exchange, I’m teaching my child that there’s no need for my approval, that it’s more important for her to know how SHE feels about her painting and the process of creating.
When you acknowledge children in this way, you encourage them to do things to please themselves, not you as a parent. This simple shift of mindset and change in language puts the emphasis on her own feelings, her own work, and her own choices. It shows her that it’s got nothing to do with my approval and everything to do with how she chooses to move through the world.
Praise might encourage your children to avoid challenges
Some research even suggests that when we praise kids for their ability, kids become more cautious, they avoid challenges.
By teaching our children to listen to themselves and giving them the language (like the word “inspired”) to verbalise their feelings, you’re laying foundations for young adults who can articulate themselves, and ascertain if the decision they are making works with their own ethical compass.
In the future, people who can acknowledge and articulate feelings become successful partners –
because they’re practiced at holding the space for their spouse to feel what they are feeling, verbalise what’s going on for them, and respecting their own emotions.
These traits are also the qualities of good leaders –
instead of invading a space when they’re dealing with another person, they respect the other party enough to allow them to articulate their experience and beliefs with empathy.
Our job as parents is to create empathetic human beings, not little people who don’t know how to be without someone telling them they’re doing OK. I think that the key to this is withholding praise, and giving our kids something even more valuable.