If you are a parent, work with or care for children, then you most likely are aware of the countless amounts of self help books out there giving tips on how to treat and help a child build his/her self esteem. Most of those books talk about the importance of praising during childhood; something that undoubtedly helps children build self esteem and develop personality.
But what happens when we take praise too far, when we over shelter our children or when we fail to help them discover their gifts even if it means failing at times? In our present society we are so afraid of failing, we tend to do anything to help our children not to discover what failing feels like. Have we forgotten that it is failure from where wisdom, improvisation, strength and imagination come from?. Failure is not the enemy, pain is not the enemy; how we teach them to handle these things are what is important. Therefore it is important to think whether or not we are actually helping build self esteem vs having our children develop a false image paired with false expectations, not just of themselves but of others as well.
There is no doubt a praising word can help us continue, it can help us develop faith on believing we have the power to do things better and achieve our goals. But what happens when praising becomes too repetitive?. What happens when a child grows up always expecting praise and one day fails to receive it?. When praise becomes too repetitive it can actually cause damage. Repetitive praise at times can push us towards taking the easy path instead of pushing ourselves whenever confronted with difficulties. Moreover praise can push a child to waver; the child might just want to get a positive result in order to achieve praise but it doesn’t mean the child likes or cares for the task at hand. At those times if we keep praising our children and pushing them toward something they truly don’t like or need, then we are teaching them their feelings and opinions don’t matter. Later in life as adults, those children may still not be able to express themselves out of fear to displease others. It is very important for children to understand there won’t always be a reward physical or verbal in order to learn to distinguish what things are responsibilities and which are not. In this way children can learn to be consistent with the results they obtain in relation to the effort they dedicate to the work they are doing. If they want better results they will learn the need to put more effort, without doing it base on how much praise they will get, but rather the focus is back to self. These children develop a deep sense of self totally independent of what others may or may not think. Let us keep in mind William Penn’s words “He who does good disinterestedly, without interest for praise or reward, in the end will have both” .
Among all praises there are 3 main ones which we tend to believe will help a child’s self esteem when in fact they encourage its opposite:
- You may overpraise the ability instead of the effort. There needs to be a well distinguished line or well kept balance when praising in this way. It is very important to praise hard work; even if a child is very intelligent, if he or she does nothing to build upon that intelligence then his or her talent will be lost. It is also important not to confuse valuing the effort with over praising the achievement of any minimal task, as the child may come to develop low expectations of self. This is something that is occurring more and more in many schools, where children are overpraised, the child with talent held behind under the obsolete belief that it is what is best for the sake of the collective. There is no surprise then why by the time these kids reach high school they don’t care to put much effort on developing self or their surroundings. Why should they?, society expects only the mere minimal and they will be praise regardless. There is no surprise more and more young adults have underdeveloped personalities, over inflated egos and know nothing about responsibility. Maybe your child’s school, media and surroundings may not be the best influences to draw from, but the biggest influence a child will have are his/her parents; specially during their formative years. If we focus on teaching our kids to develop self love/acceptance vs wanting acceptance from everyone, then we truly are helping a human being discover what it is to be self assured and along with it to have a balanced ego. We should start (at an early age) by praising the capacity quickly followed by praising the effort. Again when it comes to praising it is imperative all is conducted in a very balance way.
- Over exaggerating your praises, without being specific on what it is you are praising the child for. Some comments can be so exaggerated; instead of building self esteem they are counterproductive. We may end up teaching our children to put on masks, to develop fear of trusting others due to how vague and fleeting people may seem. Children are innocent, this does not mean they can not sense when someone is being real vs when someone is just trying to be nice. Learn to give more realistic praises based on tangibles which the child can understand and trust.
- Pressuring the child is not the solution. Sometimes when people praise they end up putting more pressure on a child. Instead of praising being a positive, it turns out into a negative. If a child is led to think he or she can do no wrong, is a total genius, or perfectionist, then that child will most likely suffer inside or be petrified of making a mistake. The child will end up subjected to unnecessary pressure. Pressure is not the same as motivation and making mistakes are part of life. Praising children to the point where they believe they are better than the everyone else is not the same as helping them develop healthy self love. Those children can end up feeling depress or helpless whenever they make a mistake, or they will try to hide their real emotions out of fear of loosing their status. They may also end up becoming very judgemental people because they have not learn mistakes are part of the process, part of life, part of growing. Let’s keep in mind that pressure is not the same as motivation; it is very important to motivate our children realistically instead of pressuring them into things.
Praising in excess, hiding our children’s faults, not teaching them to take responsibility out of some deluded sense of love, or overprotecting them are not very different than the child abused through denigration. At the end praising can be an amazing way to help children develop a strong sense of self, or it can used in a way no different than bullying; for when praising becomes pressure with a smile, it is then we become the bullies to our own children.
Let us always keep in mind that what our children need the most is knowledge that no matter what their parents can be trusted, that they are human, that they will make mistakes. They need to know they can count on them for truth, for real motivation, and more importantly the knowledge that no matter what happens at the end of the day, parents are more concerned with their children’s well being vs being concerned whether or not they are being praised for holding the “perfect parent” image.
Although the word “praise” can be considered something positive as you can see it can also be very negative when not used appropriately. Learn to praise the right way and more importantly not in excess.