Scene #1: Your child's room is messy, but they picked up their dirty clothes and are waiting for you to say "good job."
Scene #2: Your mathematician child made another A on a math test and is waiting for his "way to go" even though he forgot to turn in his English homework.
Scene #3: Your cashier gave you change without using his cash register to help him. He's waiting to hear "Atta boy!" before relinquishing your change.
These are all symptoms of a dangerous and nepharious disease: Praise Addiction.
Not all praise is bad, but there are studies that show it can be harmful if overused--particularly in getting kids to do chores, putting in effort on difficult subjects, and in work, later in life. So what does a Playful Parent do? [No--curling up in a ball is not an option.]
A Playful Parent notices. She looks at her child and describes what she sees:
- You worked hard on getting your dirty clothes to the hamper!
- You do well in math but are still struggling in English.
- You're a professional cashier! [pride in your voice]
Start the sentence with 'you' and describe what you're seeing. Sometimes, being noticed is all it takes to get us to move to the next step or help us keep on trying.
It also helps our kids to express themselves. One morning, we were driving to church and passed a man on crutches who didn't have one of his legs. My 4 year old asked, 'What happened to him?" "I don't know, but I think he was a soldier who lost his leg keeping us safe." Several days later, she was drawing a picture. It was of a smiling man with tears and missing one leg. In my best Playful Parent voice, I described what I saw: "There is a guy with a smile, tears, and no leg." Yup. Sounds simple, but everone's first reaction to a 4 year olds' picture is to say "what a pretty picture". If I had said that, I would have missed the point. My beautiful child said "Yes. He's sad he lost his leg but he's proud he kept me safe." Wow.
Praise would have changed her story. Praise would have lost the emotional depth of a true work of art. Encouragement, noticing, and really communicating gave me an insight that I find precious to this day.
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