By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Should I Praise My Child? How Reducing Your Feedback Can Help Your Child Grow
Please bear in mind that the following principles represent a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfill them perfectly. Therefore, remember that you are human, have patience with yourself and try to implement these new ideas gradually.
You Can Have Positive, Productive Interactions With Your Child
Focus, above all, on building the parent-child relationship. It is the foundation on which all your child’s well-being lies. You have the opportunity to create a reservoir of trust, mutual confidence, reason, explanation, negotiation, accommodation, consideration, unconditional love and approval. When misbehavior or problems arise, you can draw on this reservoir and resolve the issues, and you will therefore not need punishment, force or other harsh tactics. Children are very eager to please parents when they enjoy this warm relationship.
As parents, we need to involve kids in the process of deciding what goes on in their lives. We need to listen to their objections, try to accommodate their needs and desires and respect their sense of self-determination. This will result in a much happier child who is much better behaved.
Reduce Control and Criticism.
Using punishment or restrictions in excess, or trying to break a child’s will, can result in one of two things. He may become emotionally broken and crushed, as well as excessively docile and compliant. This often leads to the development of anxiety disorders. Or, he may rebel and become excessively defiant in a desperate attempt to preserve his sense of self. Both situations are equally terrible and undesirable, but interestingly, the overly compliant child is often in a worse position because the rebellious child has at least retained his sense of self.
You don’t want kids to be perfectly well-behaved and blindly obedient because it causes them to lose their sense of self, along with their confidence, critical thinking, and capacity to reach their full potential. We want children to develop an assertive self-will and autonomy, to be independent thinkers. They need to practice this by doing things independently of their parents.
Paradoxically, the less we control our children, the more they are likely to comply with our directions and requests. As I’ve said elsewhere, too much control makes them feel restricted, and they tire of it and rebel. What adult likes to be over-controlled? Children are no different. That means a little rebelliousness is healthy and desirable. Give them room to strike out on their own. The more you do this, the more they will be resistant to peer pressure, as they will be accustomed to following their own will. They will also become more assertive adults, which is one of the keys to lifelong success.
One more great tip to make a child feel less controlled is to try saying yes ten percent more often. This brings him into his comfort zone. When you see your child really, desperately wants something, it pays to give in, if possible. When he doesn’t want something so badly, then he can more easily tolerate a denial. Remember, saying “yes” now relaxes the child and gives you credit to be able to say “no” to something else.
Should I Praise My Child? Offer Effective, Instructive Praise
While criticism is often negative, sometimes, praise can be another form of a controlling assessment. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Should I praise my child in this situation? What behavior am I really praising?” Instead of immediately judging and saying “What a good boy! You gave him the toy,” try saying, “You gave him the toy, you made him happy.” Then, your child can judge the results of his actions for himself. He can see that his choices can have pleasant consequences. This creates desirable self-esteem, whereas receiving judgment from the adult – even positive judgment – creates the less desirable other-esteem. Other-esteem means your self-image is dependent on the opinions of others, and it is a very fragile, emotionally unhealthy place to be.
If your child paints a picture and asks what you think of it, you might automatically want to say, “What a beautiful picture!” This is a value judgement, which teaches the child to be dependent on the judgement of others. Instead, you can respond by asking, “What do you think of it?” This shows the child that what he thinks important and how he esteems himself is what really counts. He may respond, “I think it’s O.K.” Then, you can reflect his words and reply, “It sounds like you think it’s O.K.” This reflecting validates and empowers him in his own judgment of himself.
Alternatively, you can describe what you see in the picture and say, “I see a brown dog and a blue sky.” The child is then encouraged to evaluate the picture himself. Instead of saying “I’m proud of you,” practice saying, “You should be proud of yourself.” This way of praising a child gives him an internal locus of evaluation, and it is a much more secure position to be in because he completely controls his own sense of self.
Your Child Can Develop Confidence and Curiosity
Remember, it’s never too late to improve your relationship with your child. It’s amazing how children respond to changes in the way we interact with them.
So you should not only ask “Should I praise my child?” but you should get into the habit of asking, "In what way should I praise my child so as to foster his emotional growth?”
The great news is that parents have tremendous power to influence their children’s emotional well-being. Therefore, just changing the way we interact with them a little bit can have tremendous benefits to your relationship.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, the specialties on my website, or download one of my informative free reports. If you are facing challenges with your child and would like treatment or guidance from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free, 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!