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Is It Possible to Over-Praise Our Children?

As parents of two daughters, Rochelle and I are on a constant journey to raise them to become strong, loving, and God-dependent people. To that end, I recently went to hear Barbara Coloroso speak on her book Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline, which I promptly bought. Barbara is an internationally recognized speaker and author in the areas of parenting, teaching, school discipline, non-violent conflict resolution and reconciliatory justice. Coloroso begins in an unlikely place for the 21st-Century, whether or not we – parents, schools, teachers, etc… – are praising kids too much and addicting them to rewards.

Part of her reasoning is that children become hooked on the praise and rewards. A child at 5 who responds behaviorally to his/her parents praise becomes a problem-child at 15 and the parents wonder what happened. “What happened to our kid?” they say. Coloroso posits; nothing happened. The child has simply traded your praise for the praise of his or her peer-group. In fact, they’ve been trained to respond to praise and rewards. Quoting Choon Tan, Coloroso writes,…

“Children who are bribed and rewarded don’t have much of a chance to grow into independent and self-assured young people. They will always need somebody’s approval for their ideas and for their well-being they will need an unbroken supply of love and admiration.”

What do you think? Is it possible to praise to much? I hold this quote and the very admirable work of Coloroso against a wise saying attributed to Fred Craddock: “More people die of a broken heart than a swelled head.” What say you, Friends?

  • Chris

    Couldn’t agree with her more. Last October I heard Marcus Buckingham speak about the differing generations in America (Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Millenials) and he gave examples of the over praising of our children. He asked the audience to raise their hand if they were 40 years old and ever received a trophy for participation when they were a child. No one in the audience of 8,000 people raised a hand. Then he asked everyone under the age of 25 to do the same. The room was littered with hands. His argument is that people say you have an opportunity rather than a weakness. We don’t think there is a problem when we fail because we still get a trophy. He followed with the example of the 20 year old at a new job who wants a promotion after six weeks. The boss asks him why do you deserve a promotion. The answer was because he had been to work on time every day and helped co-workers when they needed help. The boss, of a more expecting generation, informed him that was the criteria to KEEP his job, not get promoted.

    I have been very direct with my oldest about what the expectations are for different activities, situation and the like. If he fails at this, I won’t stop loving him and will help correct the failure if possible but am trying to teach that any failure is a chance to learn and develop into a stronger person. I don’t coddle him when grades are less than they should be because he rushes through it. I coach him on why accuracy is more important than speed and remind him of his goals. I am NOT the perfect parent and show that every day but I hope that my children will grow to be independently motivated and strive for excellence in every area of their lives.

    • Love Marcus Buckingham!

  • Zach

    I realize that I am somewhat under-qualified to speak on issues of parenting, but here goes:

    I’m a tough parent, perhaps out of necessity. However, I also praise and reward Romeo a lot. What I think is important is what you’re praising towards. If you are praising towards a goal of a confident child, then you’ll get it, perhaps with the results Sean described above. But when I praise Romeo, I try to put it within the context of praising who he is turning into, so that his future self is the goal. In other words, I try to make it so the reward is not what I say, but getting closer to being what he is striving towards. That way, he’s (hopefully) not just looking for any praise, but looking for signs that he is becoming a good man.

    Of course, this could also end up with him feeling like he can never measure up, but I guess we’ll see how that turns out. The best advice I got after Romeo came to live with me was something like this: “You’re going to [mess] him up- that’s unavoidable. The question is HOW will you mess him up? Will the excess baggage that he carries mostly be dead weight to hold him down or mostly tools to help him climb above where he came from?” That question, from a very intentional father of 5, has helped me out a lot when I’m lost in the despair of not knowing what to do next.

    • I like that Zach. I see my parenting in a similar way. And it’s the same way I see all my interactions: I try to inflict asa little damage on the world as possible.

  • Deanna Love

    Since I have reared perfect children and am loving also-perfect grandchildren, I feel very much qualified to speak on this subject. (Ha) There are no formulas for being a parent — my Cajun grandmother would say “a little dis and a little dat.” I have no doubt that you and Rochelle are living with God at the center of your family and your love for each other right beside that. You will know how much praise and how much correction is needed with each circumstance. Of course, you know that you are two of my favorite people, and I think you are nearly as perfect as my children!!!

    • You’re too kind. From where I sit, your kids turned out pretty well. You should be proud.

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