Parents of a 12-year old said that they had repeatedly told their son that he was bright and capable. Their concern is that now he seems to be risk averse…that he doesn’t want to take risks for fear of failure. Their question “How do we deal with a problem of our own creation?”
A reward, not a right
Praise should be a reward, not a right. It needs to be earned. It isn’t enough that a child is bright, but that he apply his/her intellect to benefit others.
If praise isn’t earned, it’s flattery and flattery is both disingenuous and misleading. Whereas praise as a reward is both genuine and encouraging.
Another essential element of praise is that it needs to be appropriate. A kindness deserves quick acknowledgment, nothing more. ”That was nice of you” is appropriate.
If the child meets expectations, “Good job” will suffice. A child that exceeds expectations deserves a “You went above and beyond. Thank you.” If that child blows the doors off, “Great job! You got to be thrilled. I knew you could do it.”
In lieu of punishment?
One of our natural tendencies is the desire to punish people for inappropriate behavior or failing to do what’s expected. Over the years I’ve found that withholding praise is more powerful than attempts to punish.
That’s as true of adults as it is children. When I held CFO positions in corporate, I held weekly meetings with my team. If one of the team members failed to meet expectations and didn’t have a good reason for doing so, I withheld praise then asked “What are you going to accomplish next week?”
Because the other employees all got appropriate praise and this employee did not, everyone knew that I wasn’t happy with the person’s performance. More often than not, this was all that it took for the person to regain their focus. Why? Because we all crave recognition. We also hate to disappoint people who believe in us. And we prefer to avoid the embarrassment of admitting that we failed in front of others.
A balanced approach
All too often the reason our approach fails to produce the desired result is that we aren’t employing a balanced approach. In this instance, praise was given in hope of building the child’s confidence. We must learn to praise lessons learned through mistakes as well as successes.
For it’s through the lessons learned from our mistakes that we experience the greatest growth. When children are praised for learning and not just success, they grow in confidence because they no longer fear failure. The mistakes they make are learning experiences and learning is a source of great joy for all of us.
You can help a child who’s made a mistake by asking “What did you learn from this experience? What will you do differently going forward? Then this is a success for you…you learned a valuable lesson. Good job.”
Learn to praise the learning as much as the success…and do so appropriately. You’ll find that you’ll help free your children of fear, anxiety and frustration. You’ll help them live a life of joy, peace and fulfillment…a life others’ desire.
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