Parents, don’t we love to praise our children? Praise is good because it fills one of our children’s greatest needs which is affirmation. Keep in mind though that how you praise your children actually shapes their values.
Some kids are naturally gifted in academics, sports and music. So they excel even without putting much effort into it. And we often hear ourselves telling them, “You’re smart!” or “You’re a great singer!” But how about your other kids who are not as gifted? If this is all the kind of praise that is heard in your home, your other kids could be thinking, “Well, I can never be as smart as my brother, or I don’t have a great singing voice like my sister, so I can never be as good as them.” If we focus solely on abilities, we inadvertently make our other kids feel inferior.
These kinds of praise also send the message to our kids that as long as they have good grades or perform well, their behavior doesn’t matter. Your A student could have gotten the honors in class but he spent most nights playing video games, which displays a lack of good stewardship of time.
On the other hand, there are kids who spend a lot of time studying, but might not necessarily get the honors in class. There are kids who spend all afternoon and evening practicing for that song number but still won’t get the lead role in the school play. Are these kids less worthy of your praise?
What you constantly praise at home communicates to your children what is important to you. What are the values you want to reinforce in your children? Is it good grades or diligence? Is it getting the spotlight or persistence? Is it making money or compassion for people?
We want our children to be successful as adults of course, but we don’t want that apart from a character that honors God. We see successful basketball players but are rude and arrogant off the court. We see famous celebrities who make millions per movie but have broken marriages and rebellious children.
Be deliberate to celebrate character more than ability. Notice how your child was so patient trying to figure out that Algebra problem. Or how he took time to wash his dishes even if he was tired. Or how he helped his younger brother with the puzzle he was trying to complete.
There’s nothing wrong with praising abilities. Our kids need to hear those too. But let us go beyond the externals and find ways to praise character as much, if not more.