Are our kids praise addicts?

‘Oh, you made a poo! Good boy.’

I raise an eyebrow in the direction of my friend; busy with her baby of a few months old. No, he is no wunderkind who just managed his first potty session – he simply did what babies do – accomplished a dirty nappy. For his mom however, this is an event worthy of praise. And she is not alone.

I find myself sneaking in a ‘great’ or ‘well done’ after nearly every bite my one year old son takes. Surely by now, after eating well for many months, he opening his mouth at the advance of a spoonful could be seen as a fact of life, yet I keep on dishing out plates of praise. This might be too much, yet I fear it is too little. Like Goldilocks I endeavour to find ‘just right.’

Too little praise

Knowing that you are loved and accepted builds self esteem and confidence. Receiving praise is one of the ways you know this - without praise, it is easy to lose your sense of self worth. Feeling that you are never good enough can let resentment set in. If even the devil gets his due, but you don't, it is easy to forget why you have a place in this world. That said: is it possible that praising our children too much could set them up for failure as grown-ups?

Too much praise

Where ever we turn, we seem to be motivated to use the tool of positive reinforcement. We are bombarded by titles like: Think yourself thin, or rich, or happy. As parents we often use this tool: praise good behaviour, thereby reinforcing it; ignore bad behaviour and it will go away. Many of us will testify to the success of this method.

However, praise without rhyme or reason holds risks of its own. Over-praising could lead to uninspired behaviour – after all, why would you strive to be exceptional if you knew you were going to be rewarded anyway - just for being mundane.

Then again, if we praise purely because we believe it will yield results, our praise could be insincere or (bluntly put) a lie. This, too, could mean pain for our children as they grow. Many of us have watched the Pop Idol auditions, cringing in our seats at the sound from our TV thinking: didn't your mother tell you you can't sing?

She didn't. She did exactly the opposite. The tragedy here is not that the contestants cannot sing; it is that they believe they can, because they have been told so by people they trust.

Mmmm, just right

My dad once told me that I could do anything I put my mind to. Thinking about it, I am sure he did not mean become an Olympic sprinter, or the next president. What I believe he meant is that if I hone my skills and follow my heart, I can lead a happy and successful life. Praising our children when they have succeeded or accomplished something new is imperative to their growth and development.

There are so many amazing things our children do each day, things we can praise them for without second thought, but are we running the risk of praising them too much? Will my son one day take a breath, and not do so again until he hears the words: “good boy?”

Do the pros of praising outweigh the cons, or should certain things our children do be taken for granted?
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