Praising For Real | Teaching Self-Government

Praising For Real

Mother giving high five to daughter

I once had a reader say that praising didn’t come naturally for her. In fact, she thought praising seemed fake and annoying. She wrote:

“I don't want to be a cheerleader, always saying ‘Good job’ no matter what. I want to say things that matter and that I really believe. What makes it hard is when I know they should be capable of doing some things without always having to be praised. I know you said that we could never give too much praise, but how do you stay real? How can I change my mindset from being critical to being positive, while still helping my children improve and behave well?”

I wasn't raised by parents who praised me constantly. I remember doing anything I could to keep my parents from knowing I did something wrong because I dreaded 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 things about their lives from people who love them to avoid negative attention. 

Years ago when I started doing foster care we were told to praise six to 10 times for every correction we gave a child. It was overwhelming for me because praising didn't come naturally for me. I would often remember to praise, but then I would stumble over the words. I would let the thought to praise pass because I didn't want to appear weird to the foster youth. During this time of no praise, I noticed I was letting a dark cloud hang over my home. I wasn’t nurturing, and I was driving away the Spirit. 

Even though I recognized it, I was slow to change. Praise just didn't roll off my tongue smoothly. I think most people are like this, which is too bad, because freedom comes from praise. I made myself praise each child 20 times per day. I actually kept track of the praises. After a few weeks I was doing better. After a month I noticed my whole family was happier, and I was the happiestbecause I was looking for the good in people I love.

Training yourself to look for the good in others, especially those closest to you, frees you from the bondage of pride and selfishness. 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. 

In some cases, praise can seem fake to a person not used to praising, or it really could be fake praise. If you praise, mean it. A normal praise for me is a lot more than "Good job.” I say things like, "I love the way you walked into the kitchen, saw what needed to be done to get dinner done on time, and chose to just start doing it. You’re a great problem solver! I don't know what I would do without you. Thanks.” To avoid being fake, just tell them how you reallyfeel. The problem comes if you’ve conditioned yourself to not feel like people deserve praise. 

Should people ever get to a point where they don't get praised for everything? Yes! I’m not suggesting that parents praise things that are not worth praising. My children know that as they get older they won’t 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. Not me! I would never recommend enabling people. 

That said, most parents 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 talking, teaching, patience and energy to keep teaching our children how they need to behave in different situations. My rule of thumb is if they keep making the same bad decisions, then they’re 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, you must see your family through different eyes. When you’re negative you’re looking through your own selfish eyes. I often sit and watch my children interact with each other and try to identify what their intentions are for all the things they choose to do. 

My daughter was given an instruction to clean her room, and about 15 minutes later I found her cleaning her brother's room instead. I told her 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 because he was overwhelmed by the mess he had to clean up, so she helped him clean his room. 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 she was really governing herself, and I needed to give her more credit. Seek to understand your children. Give them credit for being the good children 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 frees you from all of those feelings of disappointment that can ruin a day or a life.

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