As parents, we have no choice but to tell our children when they have done something wrong. It comes with the territory to chastise and admonish children for inappropriate behavior. Without addressing problem behaviors they continue, and then we are not doing our job to raise well-behaved adults.
There is no such requirement for praise, though we generally realize that without praise children will grow up with an insecure feeling about their worth and an uncertainty of their parent’s views of them.
What we rarely spend much time considering is the type and quality of praise that we are giving. Taking a moment to consider the praise being doled out is another aspect of Mindful Parenting.
Mindful Parenting: Parenting with a conscious consideration of the messages we are giving the child.
A parent can lavish general praise on a child with much less impact than a few specific points of praise.
Nonspecific praise consists of general statements like “You’re so sweet.”, “You’re such a good boy.” Nonspecific praise is like an “atta boy!” A pat on the back for a pat on the backs sake.
I am not knocking nonspecific praise. Kids benefit from these loving and appreciative comments. It is wonderful to be reminded that your parents love and value you in general.
When a child is receiving such praise they feel loved and acknowledged in a positive way. However, when we step the praise up a level they can get the same feelings of love and appreciation and so much more.
Here are some examples of specific praise.
“I am so impressed with how well you are doing in math.”
“You were so sweet to stop playing to help grandma find her glasses tonight, and I didn’t even have to ask you!”
“I can tell you put a lot of effort into that drawing, that is why it looks so great…you really took your time with it.”
“You are so handsome.”
“You get more handsome every day, I swear you look just like ______.”
“You’re such a good big sister.”
“Thank you for helping your sister with her doll’s clothes, you’re such a good big sister.”
The 3 Big Benefits of Meaningful Praise
1. Engrain our Values in our Children.
It sounds like brainwashing…and it really kind of is. Our job as parents is to teach our children who to be and this involves some entrenching of values. We can harp at them and gripe at them about what not to do. It works to teach them that we don’t like certain behaviors. However, when we present in a negative way the child is more likely to be putting up internal blocks. These internal blocks are then preventing the message from hitting its mark and resonating with them the way we as parents are hoping that it will.
So by using a lot of specific meaningful praise we are teaching our children what they can do to make is proud of who they are and where they direct their efforts. We can do this at such an early age that they carry it with them as part of their world view forever, without even realizing it. The added bonus being that it will likely, in turn, decrease the number of incidents in which we must scold them for not behaving in accordance with our values.
2. Specific Meaningful Praise conveys a higher level of genuineness.
When the time is taken to make a very specific and thoughtful comment the sentiment is perceived as being more sincere.
When 10 people signed your yearbook as a kid and 8 of those said have a great summer…the two that went on about personal memories and feelings seemed that much more sincere. In our children’s lives, we MUST not be the people who write have a great Summer.
It is not that the child hears unspecific praise as being disingenuous. At the moment any praise feels nice. The child will be unaware of how much more impactful the specific praise is as it is happening. It will feel even better and it will build them up even more than they will ever recognize. It is the parent who will see the difference.
It will be seen in the form of confidence to try something new or take on a challenge. It will be seen in extra effort on the next drawing or next assignment. It will be seen as beaming pride in accomplishments and confidence in who they are.
They won’t know or see the difference, but if you know what you are looking for you will. It makes all the difference.
3. Specific Meaningful Praise has real staying power!
An atta boy feels good at the moment but flows right past us. Specific Meaningful Praise, on the other hand, gets stored deep in the memory banks. It gets stored in a place where it can still be retrieved through a veil of anger, fear, or distance. Because of the staying power of Specific Meaningful Praise, it gives us a way to reach our kids when we want to the most and often see no real access to them.
When the child is on stage and alone specific meaningful praise will ring in their ears. When a child is taking a deep breath about to start a race or the math portion of the SAT Specific Meaningful Praise will echo in their mind. When the angry teenager has yelled and stormed away from us. Specific Meaningful Praise can still reach our children at these moments when we cannot. AND if something should happen to us, and we are not able to be there as our children go on moving through life it is the Specific Meaningful Praise we have given them from which they will draw continued knowledge of our love and pride in them.
The power of Specific Meaningful Praise is that it builds the child’s self confidence and sense of self – then it hangs around forever lingering in the back of the mind to remind them in times of doubt.
If you are going to praise, take a moment to make it meaningful.
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