Hang on, how can too much praise be a mistake? When raising my own three children, I wanted to praise them a lot, but even then I began to see that there is such a thing as too much praise.
In his book, 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, author Tim Elmore addresses this idea of over-the-top praise. This week I will address #6 of a 12-part series on parenting mistakes. Here are the first five:
- Mistake #1: Parents not letting their kids fail
- Mistake #2: Parents project their lives on their children
- Mistake #3: Putting too much emphasis on being happy
- Mistake #4: Inconsistency
- Mistake #5: Rescuing Children
Mistake #6: Too Much Praise
It’s normal for parents to praise their children and it is important for kids to hear praise, as long as it is not empty praise and praise that is overdone.
Current studies show that when adult praise is over the top, when affirmation is exaggerated and not connected to reality, these things actually have a damaging effect.
But sometimes, as parents, coaches and teachers, it’s easier to not be totally honest with kids. Being honest might mean we get rejected. Being honest usually takes more time and work. Being honest is often more painful. And being honest also forces us to be responsible, instead of avoiding something we’d rather not acknowledge. Often, dishonesty is born out of a parent’s own misconceptions. (Your convinced your child is the best athlete in the school, when in reality, they are not!)
We want to introduce our kids to reality gently, so we withhold some of the truth. Whatever we call it, we still cause long-term problems by doing it. When we lie to our kids or distort things for them, disillusionment will follow the dreams that we helped them create–dreams that don’t match their gifts.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good for kids to dream. But the older they get, the more they need to base those dreams on some semblance of reality.
When you tell your child they are the best pitcher on the team and can go pro, they will assume that’s true even though they are clearly NOT the best pitcher on the team.
When you praise your child’s not-so-good musical talent, they get confused that no one else agrees with you.
When you are constantly telling your child how awesome they are, not only does it start to sound meaningless to them, they may wonder why everyone else doesn’t treat them as if they are awesome.
The reason parents praise kids so much is that they want to raise confident, secure kids, but research suggests that too much praise can actually have the opposite effect: depression and anxiety, unmet and unrealistic expectations, wandering instead of working, and wishing they were someone else.
Praise, however, is still good, when used correctly. Here’s how:
- When parents communicate positive messages, it should not just be with words; they can send messages through how they talk, spend their time and how they treat their kids. The messages your child should be hearing are: you are loved, you are safe, you are valuable, you are unique, you are supported.
- Be sure your kids know people who will help them discover their strengths and gifts. Let your kids try different things. They will be good at some of them, and not so good at others. Our youngest tried piano, ballet and gymnastics before she settled into team sports, where she eventually thrived.
- Encourage your kids to learn perseverance. Don’t let your kids make excuses for quitting something that gets hard.
- Teach your kids to pursue excellence. Not just good enough–that’s a standard that is accepted way too easily and if they settle for doing good enough as kids, they will do good enough as adults. Mediocrity is not a good success plan.
If your goal is to raise children who become secure adults, then use your praise wisely.