Monday, April 10, 2006

How Conscious Parents Praise their kids

"Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you."
~ William Arthur Ward

This is a wonderful quote! It inspired me to write this post. Children are so aware of when we adults are being truthful, or when we're stretching the truth.

Here's a story to illustrate exactly what I am referring to.

Six year old Jack was working hard at creating some artwork Saturday evening before bed. Sitting at the kitchen table while Dad is doing dishes, he is showered with praise. "Wow, Jack! Did you use every color in the crayon box? What an amazing idea! You are such a perfect artist. Your picture is the best. Let's frame it." Jack is thrilled, excited, and decides to take his picture in to school the next Monday. As he happily shows his picture at show and tell on Monday, he is surprised, and sad that the kids don't seem to really even look at it. The teacher only says "thank you for sharing your picture Jack". Jack goes home feeling rather down that day, and leaves his picture stuffed in his cubby. His mom and dad just don't know why he's in such a sour mood.

Do you ever tell your kids that their picture is the "most beautiful"? Do you tell them they're the "prettiest", the "best" or the "most amazing" in relation to what they do or who they are? This is a mistake. Your children know, or will soon know that their picture may be the most beautiful to you, but to others, won't even turn a head.

How do our kids feel when they're shown such opposite reactions to their work, or who they are?

We'd like to think that they'd feel that everyone else must be wrong, or color blind. We'd hope our kids would have a strong sense of self, and accomplishment because of all of our encouraging compliments. But that may not be the case, and we may be the cause. Giving unrealistic, outrageous encouragement to our children in the form of flattery will not give them high self esteem. It will not make their sense of self blossom. On the contrary, they will feel confused, and maybe even tricked by us, since we told a lie. Their art, they find out, isn't museum quality to others, just to us.

So what do we do? How do we encourage our children so that they are strong minded, healthy, with full self esteems and great ideas about what they're good at, without misleading them? It's actually easier than you might think, and won't be much of a change from the huge exagerated praise they've been receiving. Here's the re-do of the story above, with conscious parenting:

Six year old Jack was working hard at creating some artwork Saturday evening before bed. Sitting at the kitchen table while Dad is doing dishes, he is quietly observed by Dad. Jack finally finishes, and shows his picture to Dad, feeling proud of his art. Dad says "I like your picture, Jack. I like the colors you chose, and the design. Will you tell me about your picture?" Jack proceeds to explain the dinosaurs, plants and action he's installed in his picture, and makes sure Dad sees the details he's put in, even the bloody injury the dinosaur received from a mean T-Rex! Jack loves his picture, and decides to take it to school for show and tell on Monday. As he happily explains his picture at show and tell on Monday, giving the exciting story of the dinosaur in the picture, he has some of his fellow students captivated, the others? Busy with something else. But Jack isn't looking for praise, he is just sharing something important to him. The teacher says "thank you for sharing your picture Jack". Jack says "welcome!" happily, and sits down to see the next child's sharing, knowing that the next kid has something imporant to them to share as well. Jack goes home feeling just right that day, and gives his picture to his Dad when he gets home to have in his work office, because he knows his Dad liked it.

What is the difference? In the second story, Dad did a really good job of showing interest, telling Jack what he liked, and didn't pass any judgement about the picture. By encouraging Jack's imagination, and just listening, Jack felt heard, and like he has good ideas. Jack's sense of self got to grow a bit, and he didn't get upset when other kids weren't as excited as he was.

Consciously encouraging your kids by showing interest, and encouraging them to tell you about what they've done is a great way to love them!