Use Praise As Education, Not Manipulation
It’s Good To Praise Our Kids
We praise our kids because we love them
and we want to show how much we appreciate them.
This is a wonderful thing because it is good
for our kids to know that we admire them.
It’s good when they can feel we see them in a positive light.
This is why praise and positive-reinforcement
are useful tools in your parenting skill set.
Praise can be beneficial or damaging, depending on how it’s used
Like all concepts, praise and positive-reinforcement
can be used in a good way or in a less than good way.
I am going to outline a couple of the damaging ways praise is used
and give some examples of how use it more effectively.
I Love You More When You Behave Like This
First, if praise is given for certain areas of your kids life,
but is noticeably lacking in others,
then it can be easy for them to feel that
they are more lovable and acceptable
when the act in the way you expect
and less lovable and acceptable
when they are not acting that way.
While on the surface this may be true,
it is not the optimal message we want to give them.
Unconditional Love is a Powerful Message
Imbalanced praise can give them the message
that we love them conditionally.
It is important that our children believe
we love them unconditionally.
This means that regardless of
how they behave our love is unwavering.
If we don’t make them feel a sense of
unconditional love then they will start to
alter their personality to match our expectations.
Internal vs External Motivations
Again on the surface this might seem desirable,
but the problem is they are learning to
make their decisions based on an external
source of validation rather than an internal one.
This can result in a tendency to please others
at the expense of their own integrity
as they start to grow into independent young people.
I do want my kids listen to me and follow my guidance.
I want them to do so because they love me and trust me,
not because they’re afraid of me or are afraid if
they don’t act in a certain way I will love (or approve of) them less.
It’s Not Enough That We Know, They Have To Know
The only way I can ensure that is if they know
beyond a shadow of a doubt
that I love them unconditionally.
The thing is I have to be careful when I use praise
so that it doesn’t appear like certain behaviorus
are more deserving of my love and attention.
The way to do that is my second point.
Make Praise Meaningful
When we praise our kids it is useful to
make it something deep and meaningful.
It is easy for it to be an empty thing
with very little impact.
One way to do this is to always mention
the positive attributes being demonstrated
when you are praising them or
offering them positive reinforcement.
I Call This “Attribute Based Positive Reinforcement”
In order to do this we have to look beneath
the surface of the situation and see what
attitude, skill, feeling or thought process
we would like to encourage from the experience.
Adding Depth to the Praise
For example say your kid wants to do some colouring
and they pull out some paper and markers,
sit at the table and start to color.
You could say to them:
“It’s really good you did that.”
Or you could say:
“I really like the independent way you got those markers.
It shows you really know yourself and have the confidence
to do what you feel you need to do in the moment.
I admire that about you.”
Kids Want To Be Noticed And Admired
This might seem a lot to say to a kid,
but in fact the more they hear the
specific ways in which we admire them
the more they absorb those ideas into themselves.
It is also a good practice for us to practice
noticing good qualities in every situation.
“I’m NOT Tired!” – an Example
Let’s say your kid doesn’t want to go to bed
and they are making a fuss at bedtime.
You could reframe the situation from thinking of it as obstinance or defiance
and instead give your kids some positive-reinforcement for that experience.
If you say to them:
“I really admire the way you know your body
and understand how sleep affects you.
I’m sure you know your own body best
and you know if you need more sleep or less sleep.
I want you to know that I trust you
and I trust your ability to guide yourself.”
What a powerful message this is for a child to receive.
It’s Never Too Early Nor Too Late To Start This Type Of Interaction
Can you imagine telling a one year old that?
Most people would think that is too much
for someone that young, but I have found that
the more trust and responsibility we give kids for themselves
the more they rise to that occasion,
even at the earliest of ages.
As they grow older they value this kind of
independence with even more importance.
Well Used Praise Can Be A Powerful Tool
When they hear that their parents trust their judgment
it becomes important for them to be real and honest
with themselves about their own decisions.
Praise and positive-reinforcement can be wonderful tools
to help your kids understand the skills and abilities they have
as well as the ones we want to encourage them to develop.
Building a Foundation of Self-Esteem
It also makes them feel that you see them
in a positive light and even admire them
for who they are.
This helps them to feel that way about themselves.
Giving our kids a foundation of powerful self-esteem
like this equips them well to face many of
the obstacles they will encounter in their lives.