A reader said that praising doesn't come naturally for her. In fact, praising seems fake and annoying to this mother. She asked:
I don't want to be a cheerleader, always saying "Good job" no matter what---I want to say things that really matter, that I really believe, that are true. I guess what makes it hard is when I know (or think I know) that I've taught them how to do something better than they have done it, or that they should be capable of doing some things without always having to be praised for it. I know you said in your presentation that we could never give too much praise, but how do you stay real? How can I change my mindset from being critical, to seeing the positive, while still helping my children improve and expecting them to behave well and do chores and other things well?
I wasn't raised by parents who praised me all of the time either. I mostly remember trying do anything I could to keep my parents from knowing I did anything wrong, because I dreaded all the negative comments. Yes, I learned a survival skill; dishonesty. From my experience and observations, if people are not praised enough, they usually start to hide many things about their lives from people who love them to avoid negative attention. This is significant to me.
Years ago when I started doing foster care we were told to praise 6-10 times for every correction to the youth. This was overwhelming to me. Praising didn't come naturally for me either. I would often remember to praise, but stumble over the words. I would think of praising and let the thought pass, because I didn't want to appear weird to the foster youth. During this time of no praise, I noticed something. I was making a dark cloud hang over my home. I was all about expectations and not nurturing. I was driving away the Spirit.
Even though I recognized it, I was slow to change. Praise just didn't roll off my tounge smoothly. I think most of society is like this. Too bad too, because freedom comes from praise. I made myself praise each child 20 times per day. I kept track. After a few weeks I was doing better. After a month I noticed that my whole family was happier, and I was by far the happiest. I was looking for the good in the people I love, how can that not make you happy?
Training yourself to look for the good in others, especially those closest to you, frees you from the bondage of pride and selfishness in your relationships. I have also noticed that it only takes one critical person to make a home full of critical people. Likewise, it only takes one person to start praising to change the whole mood in the home to love and support.
As to the fakeness of some people's praising. The praise could seem fake to a person not used to praising, or it really could be fake praise. Some people do fake praise. I don't like fake praise. If you praise, mean it. A normal praise for me is a lot more than a "good job". I say things like, "I love the way you walked into the kitchen just now and saw what needed to be done in order to get dinner done on time, and chose to just start doing what needed to be done. You are a great problem solver! I think that I will probably have time to hem that dress you needed to have hemmed because you saved me so much time. You are an incredible help to me. I don't know what I would do without you. Thanks."
To avoid being fake, just tell them how you really feel. The problem comes if you have conditioned yourself to not feel like people deserve praise.
Should people ever get to a point where they don't get praised for every thing? Yes! I am not suggesting that we parents praise things not worth praising, or praise for brushing teeth every day as long as they live in your home. My children know that as they get older they will not get praised for the same things younger children get praised for. Some people have the belief that children should be babied by praise, and never be expected to behave like an adult; who doesnt' get praised very often. I am not one of those kinds of people. I would never recommend enabling people.
That said, most parents I know expect perfect adult behavior from their children before the child has an understanding of how to control their body or emotions like an adult would. Basically, we are impatient. It takes more talking, teaching, patience, and energy to keep teaching our children what they need to behave like in all the many different situations. My rule of thumb on this is: If they keep making the same bad decisions, then they are not ready to graduate from being praised when they perform the behavior correctly.
To change your mind from seeing only negative to seeing things to praise about you must see your family through different eyes. When you are negative you are looking through your own selfish eyes. I often sit and watch my children interact with each other and try to pick out what their intentions are for all the things they choose to do.
My daughter was given an instruction to clean her room. About 15 minutes later she was found cleaning her brother's room. Her room had barely been touched. I went to my daughter and told her that she didn't follow instructions because she was supposed to be working on her own room, so she had earned an extra chore. She immediately asked to disagree appropriately. She said that she heard her little brother crying in the next room because he was overwhelmed by the mess he had to clean up in his room. She told him that she would help him clean his room to ease is anxiety. She was planning on going back to her own room.
Of course I accepted her disagreement and she earned no extra chores.
She showed me that she was really governing herself by deciding what would be the best thing to do at that time. I decided then that I needed to give her more credit. She was doing what I would want her to do. I just didn't understand the situation enough to know it. Seek to understand them. Give them credit for being the good child that they are.
Praise as often as you can. Praise brings the spirit into your home, it unites your family, gives the children a reason to care about choosing the right, and it frees you from all of those feelings of dissappointment that can ruin a day or a life.