Many articles have been written about specific aspects of parenting, including potty training tips, taking toddlers shopping, bedtime suggestions, and avoiding power struggles. These articles are certainly helpful in addressing specific concerns, but what about looking at the primary objective of parenting overall. Recently I have asked parents to consider this question: "What kind of characteristics do you want your child to exhibit as an adult?" In the next series of articles, we will be looking at how we parent our young children NOW to that end. And most importantly, make sure you have a sense of authority established in your home in anticipation of these very productive, effective articles as we pursue character development in our children.
Attributes: Taking pride in one's work, Working hard, Honesty (See below the article for Bible versus that support these attributes).
Sometimes a parenting strategy just doesn't seem "right". Sometimes, even though you can't quite put your finger on it, it just seems all together wrong. That's the way I feel about the notion that our toddlers need to be praised for just showing up to life. It has taken awhile to really articulate what about this troubles me. As parents our primary objective is to grow productive adults. We teach them what behavior is acceptable and what is not. We teach them how the world works around them and how they need to adjust to that world. When a child gets applauded for eating his/her breakfast or being excessively thanked for getting themselves dressed we have to wonder how this is going to play out when they get older. Will they expect their future spouse to give hugs and kisses just because they remembered to brush their teeth every morning?
There needs to be a distinction made between praising performance and praising effort. This is a critical distinction when we talk about what we really want our children to take away into adulthood. Consider this, parents who praise their children for just showing up, essentially they are teaching them that their own intelligence is what is praise worthy. "You are so smart", "You colored in between the lines", "Your picture is perfect", and "Your drawing is the best one?" might be what a praising performance parent would say. So then the question to consider is, what happens when your child isn't the smartest, when their drawing isn't colored within the lines or isn't perfect, and what happens when it's not the best? Praising a child for his/her intelligence or ability often undermines internal motivation, which in turn hurts performance of future tasks. Simply stated, if a child has been praised on performance only, they will be less likely to try a challenging task in fear that they will not perform well. They won't even try unless they know they can be successful...because being praised for the outcome is all they know. Children who are praised for performance care more about performance goals and not about learning.
Now consider praising a child's effort. An effort praising parent might say things like "you tried really hard", "you did your best", you didn't give up even when it got difficult", and "you did it!" What this line of praise does is allow the child to see the value in the process not just the end result. A child that values the process will be more likely to take on challenges and believes that their abilities can be developed. Children who are praised for their efforts learn that trying hard, not being the smartest or the best, is important. These children are more likely to be more resilient when things don't work out in general. They won't give up just because they produced substandard work, they will work harder the next time.
If you are not yet completely sold on praising effort versus praising performance, maybe stop and think about those young adult, "ought to know better", college students who cheat on college exams. Where do you think they learned that the ends justify the means? That the grade on the report card was more important than actually learning the material? If a person's whole goal is to be the best and look the smartest, what happens to their self-esteem when they fall short? Where do they go when their best wasn't good enough? Teach your children now to take pride in their work, work hard, and be honest by praising their effort.
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What does the Bible say about working hard?