Too little praise?

I’ve been a bad mother.

Reading Suki Lock’s article Are our kids praise addicts? I realized that I haven’t been praising mine enough.

I have been taking their good school marks and behaviour for granted, without too much fanfare. Maybe leaving them feeling unappreciated. And turning molehills of fleeting grouchiness into mountains of impending delinquency. Note to self: One argument about a sticky kitchen cupboard does not equal conduct disorder,Tracy. I have been known to overanalyze just a touch, yes indeed.

This point hit home this weekend while watching a horror of a demon child run riot in the mall. I watched him terrorise passing shoppers as his ineffectual mother trailed behind him smiling like she’d had too much Valium (maybe she had).

I turned to my children and said ‘You know that I love you guys, right?’ They’re sure not perfect – how could they be, having sprung from the loins of, um, me? But they’re lovely people. And we all deserve to have our loveliness noticed, don’t we?

With school work, I’ve always tried to praise the effort and not necessarily the result. That’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?

This works for my daughter. She’s diligent, works hard, struggles a bit with some things and does great in others. She’s still very young and is just about right for her age.  I make a fuss when she does well, help her where she needs it and watch for signs that she’s comparing herself to her brother, or other children. It seems a good balance. I try hard to focus her attention on her own effort and achievements. That’s correct, right?

My teenage son is also diligent, works hard and does really well. But it comes more easily to him. I find myself making less and less of a fuss of his school achievements as he gets older. And that’s horribly unfair of me. Is his accomplishment less worthwhile than hers because his came with less effort? When he comes top of his class, he gets a hug and a heartfelt Well Done; but no wads of cash that some other kids seem to rack up.

It’s not because I’m not proud of him. Of course I am, and he knows it.  I don’t need him to be the top of anything. I’ve always just wanted him to do his best. I’ve never, ever asked ‘What happened to the last 5%?’

Even if I know deep down that he could get it if he tried.  I don’t want him to feel that what he’s done isn’t good enough. But in my studious effort to avoid over inflating his ego, maybe I’m in danger of demotivating him by not making enough fuss? 

So what to do? Push harder, or praise harder?

Or just stop thinking about it and have a little lie down because my head hurts?

What’s your take on praise? Which is worse, too little or too much?
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