Saturday, February 06, 2010

Catch your kids doing something good

Everybody needs a little pat on the back, especially our children. Yet there is a fine line between praise for praise sake and an acknowledgment of real achievement or a good deed.

Pre-schoolers need to know they are doing a good job with potty training, reciting the alphabet, getting dressed, sharing toys, eating their veggies and the like, so that they keep on undertaking these essential life skills. Obvious compliments continue as a child grows for things such as homework accomplished (although at some point you kind of need to quit doing that, because completing homework is something that one simply needs to do, period), being kind to friends and/or siblings, scoring a goal, giving a good performance on stage, or winning an art, music or academic contest and the like. Even being well-mannered should be cited with a smile and exclamation of "I'm proud of you."

Applauding actual achievements or good behavior is essential for building self-esteem. But to glorify almost everything they do ("Oh honey! You remembered to chew your food!") may lead to a child's sense of entitlement or a bloated sense of self.

If your kid is clearly not cut out for singing or dancing or, say, baseball, you don't want to totally dash their hopes or tell them point blank, "You stink," (siblings, sadly, seem very capable of verbalizing that assessment), but you might want to instead gently steer them towards another venue or art or sport.

Not all of my children were the best at certain things. We encouraged and supported them when they wanted to play a particular sport, for example, but if and when it became clear that they were, uh, awkward, shall I say, we didn't overly gush and give them false hope; they almost always figured out for themselves that the sport in question may not be their forte`. The next year, we would simply suggest another sport or activity in which they might be better suited and find more success in, ergo, gain more self-esteem.

Nobody's perfect, even our children. Messes are going to be made, decisions may have "disastrous" results, grades can slip, mediocre performances in sport or in the spotlight will occur. Nagging about the negative can have long-term effects. More then once I have had to remind my kids that it is not they who are the disappointment but, rather, it is/was their action that is causing my disappointment; sometimes I can see that they have understood that distinction. When it appears that perhaps they cannot, damage control of sorts needs to be implemented.

"This may not have been terrific, but that (action, comment, etc.) was great; I'm really impressed by you on that score." A quick salute to a positive can often encourage your child to take the initiative when next they are faced with a situation that could rapidly turn from not-so-great to worse.

Nobody likes to be "yelled" at, yet eventually kids, teens and sometimes, adults, discover that doing the next right thing is the better part of valor.

Catching your child doing something good applies to offspring of all ages. Example: although I am not wild about 24-year-old Kenny's choice of rambling the country sans employment, I do offer props (and I am sincere!) about his travel web site, his creative skills and his ingenuity in general; he needs to know I love him, even if I haven't embraced the whole "hobo" thing. Last week one of my teens got an "A" on a test in one subject, and a much lesser grade on another, yet I managed to put the undesirable result out of my head, instead throwing a mini parade in regard to the "A." It's progress, not perfection.

Extol your sweetie pie's actions and accomplishments when you can - and when they are real. If you role model giving compliments and cheers, maybe, just maybe, your child will one day do the same toward you.

I'm pretty much still waiting for those "yay's," but they will be uttered. Someday. Right?

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