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We love our kids, and we believe that using words of encouragement over them is incredibly important.  We try to be involved parents, and because of this we give our kids a lot of praise.

But there is a pitfall to avoid on this parenting praise path.  Like a trap in the jungle, it is disguised to make it difficult to see.  Perhaps this exercise will help uncover it:

An Invisible (But Logical) Trap

Fill in the blanks:

If I am a “winner” when I win, then when I lose, I am a _________.

If I am “creative” when my art is good, then when my art is bad, I am __________.

If I am “athletic” when I do well at a game, then when I lose a game, I am _________. 

If I am “smart” when I do well on a test, then when I do poorly on a test, I am ________. 

Do you see the pitfall?  If we are not careful with our praise, we will give our children the impression that we value them because of their talents and their accomplishments.  Worse, they could believe that they have value because of those things.

It is a precarious position.  The slightest hint of failure can completely destroy their IDENTITY.  If I have inadvertently given my child the IDENTITY of “Smart” or “Special” or “Creative” then I have given them both a blessing and a curse.  They now have to defend that identity.  The first test that they fail, they will instinctively go into protection mode.  “Those test questions weren’t fair!”  (“It can’t be my fault I did poorly, I’m smart.”)  When they receive criticism from a boss they will not be able to hear it and learn from it, because it shakes them to their core.  “I thought I was special?!?  I thought I was creative?!?”  In today’s culture where everyone gets a trophy we need to figure out a middle way that gives us the best of both worlds.

Carefully Target Your Praise

Praise their effort, not just their intellect.  Praise their progress, not just their talent.  Praise their attitude, not just their aptitude.  Praise them when they struggle and when they fail and when they are still ‘not getting it.’  Praise their grit and determination while they are still in the frustration.  Praise a job well done.

Carefully Center Their Identity

Their identity is in Christ – help them learn that young.  “I am special because I am a child of God.”  That is my identity, and that is my destiny.  Each one of us is special, because God made us unique and died for each one of us.  And, because of Him, we are now holy, righteous, and redeemed!  (Do you believe it?)  So, we want our kids to go to bed each night knowing that they are loved and valued and precious.  That they are special, because of who they are in Christ.

Caveats (Don’t Throw Out The Praise Baby…)

I’m not saying that all kids are equal – of course some children have more musical talent than others.  Of course we will identify their strengths and help them pursue those.  Of course some people have more natural talent for math and others for writing.  That is obvious and apparent.  However, if you constantly say ‘my kid is great at math’ then make sure you are also saying ‘my kid works hard to get better at math.’  And also say, ‘Reading doesn’t come as naturally to him, but he is working hard to improve.’  This helps my child to form an accurate picture of who he is and what he can do.  Of course, be excited that your child is fast! Praise your child who draws beautiful pictures! Help them to discover their strengths and rejoice with them at the gifts, talents, and abilities that God has given!  Don’t rain on their parade or pour cold water on their ambitions and dreams. But never forget that gifts talents and abilities will only get you so far. It is hard work and determination and courage that turn those gifts into powerful and effective tools.

If we carefully target our praise and carefully center their identity then we will steer clear of the parenting praise pitfall.  

How do you walk the tightrope of praising the right amount for the right things?  Help us out – we want to hear your stories! 


Other Resources:

How Children Succeed

The Smartest Kids in the World (and How They Got That Way)



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