My 5 year old daughter hit a major milestone last weekend. After a couple of weeks of practicing and trying and thinking and talking about it, she got on her two-wheeler and rode away. She rode so fast that I was gasping for air as I sprinted to catch up to her. With the wind blowing her hair behind her she smiled ear to ear as she learned to turn and ride in circles.
I asked her how it felt. “I love it”, she yelled, as she rode by. I told her how proud I felt; I asked her if she felt proud too. I jumped up and down, cheered, and smiled ear to ear right along with her. I praised her hard work, her determination, and her willingness to follow through on her goal.
Yes, you read that right. I praised her.
I praised me daughter up and down and hugged her tight. This was a moment to be celebrated.
I’ve been reading a lot about praise lately. More specifically, I’ve been reading a lot of opinions from people who seem to think that praise is a crutch. Children should not be praised, they say, in order to avoid the trap of performing simply for more praise. Children, they say, should do things just because and not to get a pat on the back.
I’m not judging. I’m trying not to, anyway.
But this kind of negativity is hard to process.
I’ve spent my adult life working with children of all ages. Children who lacked self-esteem. Children who never felt validated. Children who felt they could do no right. I’ve spent countless hours building them back up, helping them find their strengths.
Imagine if someone had done that for them all along?
It is a child’s job to learn. They learn through play, they learn through music, and they learn through social interactions. They adhere to limits, they test limits, and sometimes they do a little bit of both. They reach exciting milestones and learn to set goals.
They do incredible things, these children of ours.
Why on Earth would we refuse to tell them so?
Children who are recognized for their efforts experience positive emotions. They feel good about themselves, which inspires them to continue making an effort. They grow up with a healthy sense of self and the belief that they can succeed.
Children who are not recognized for their efforts question their abilities, their importance, and their self-worth. They worry that no choice is ever right enough. They wonder if their efforts even matter.
The answer seems simple to me.
Praise their efforts. Listen to them. Encourage their ideas. Take an active role in building their self-esteem.
As for the concern that praise teaches children to perform in order to generate more praise? It simply isn’t the case.
Do you write a great article so that people will praise you or do you write a great article because you want to do your best work? Do you work hard at your job to get a pat on the back from your boss or do you work hard at your job because you take pride in your work? Do you try to be the best parent that you can be so that your kids will tell you that you’re the best or because you want to be there for your kids?
Children are no different.
They take pride in their artwork, ideas, athletic abilities, etc. They try their best because they want to, not to get that pat on the back.
But when they get that praise…that moment where they feel recognized…that moment where they see the pride in your eyes? That’s just the icing on the cake. That makes them feel loved just a little bit more. That inspires them to keep on trying.
Go ahead, praise your child today. She’ll thank you for it later.
Where do you stand on the praise debate?
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She has a five year old daughter, three year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog, Practical Parenting, and can be found on Twitter.