If there’s a phrase you hear a lot, it’s ‘you need to show up more…
What Makes Praise so Important?
Last night I was part of a story on 3D around how the wrong types of praise is turing our children into narcissists. Here’s a clip if you’ve missed it, with the story transcribed included.
While some people have commented they share the same views, others have said I’m wrong to never praise my children. And I completely agree with this, especially as I never said that! – praise is an essential part of developing behaviours, and helping reinforce the right ones.
I’m fascinated about praise, and why we praise. I’ve worked with parents, educators and employers for over twenty years around this topic. I’ve learned that the most anxious children are also often the most over praised, that children who are praised generally often either struggle with huge amounts of self-doubt, or have poor levels of resiliency.
And along the way I’ve almost “healed” myself of my own personal need for constant external praise. My actions are now propelled by an inner confidence that I’ve tried to grow in my own children – and in the people I work with.
I’m very self-aware that my current roundness is intrinsically related to my long term concerns around acceptance and needing external affirmation. Learning to not need this has been a huge learning curve that I’m still on but starting to see huge dividends from.
I know we all benefit from praise of some sort. I love it when I get specific positive feedback, although I’m also learning to love “constructive” feedback too.
One of my most read blogs this year was around confidence. We’ve got thousands and thousands of adults in our communities, who are unconfident and easily bruised by set backs, who then are raising children, terrified their children will struggle with the same issues- and trying to praise that lack of assurance out of them.
Not all parents are like this – but there is enough of them for it to be affecting our children as they grow into adults and become self-indulgent and overly entitled adults. We see these adults entering the workforce, making demands at the very first interview about how they will be treated, and respected and rewarded.
A few years ago my daughter was in a fashion design competition. I talked to her before the show – and yes I gave her praise. I said “I know you have given a huge amount of effort towards this day. I am proud of you for this. Whether you win or lose, you will have done YOUR best – and that is all you can ever do.”
All around us mothers were giving a very different praise – they were saying “You are the best here, you deserve to win ( how can we make that call when we have no power to prove it by the way!), you are the most beautiful person here” etc.
When the results came in, and my daughter came third, she was not gutted for not winning. In fact, her first comment was “I’m going to study what made the other two come before me so I can learn.” And she did.
Those girls who were being pumped up? All in tears – including the one who came second – which was a fantastic result overall! They were not judged by experts to be “the best” – even though their mum had said so. I even heard one of the parents say to their child “The judge was wrong – you WERE the best.”
Wait – how does this help your child to be resilient, and bounce back – or have a true belief in their effort and all the hard work they did?
And yet – PRAISE IS VERY IMPORTANT.
We should be praising our children, our partners, or managers, or employees – for all the traits we want them to most value
So these are the ways I praise
1. I praise effort
My girls find academic work easy. So they don’t get a huge amount of praise for that area. They don’t need it. They are self-motivated, self-driven and they work hard without it. What I DO praise is their effort in increasing their social circles (two are introverts) or in trying new physical activities (beyond our expected daily walks)
2. I praise personal accountability, honesty and ownership
If they make a mistake and own it, they get praised for this. It’s a trait I deeply admire, and I believe it will carry them far as adults. This is also true for taking responsibility for reaching their own goals. My 14 year old wanted to go on a school trip to Rarotonga – when she asked us, she also said she would raise the money. And she has. This is praise worthy behaviour.
3. I praise going above their own (or my) expectations
Like when they decide to clean the house without me asking to, or making dinner during a busy week, or pushing themselves, challenging their own capabilities.
4. I praise them for managing their emotions and displaying resiliency
We all have sad days, mad days, bad days. We don’t need to take them out on the people around us. I praise my girls for managing to not spew out their emotions on everyone else.
I don’t want my children to be adults that have to vent passive aggressively on social media, or undermine leaders in the work place, or don’t treat their people with respect and care.
5. I praise them for being trustworthy
Because it means we get to do cooler stuff with them. And I can extend further trust.
And of course I tell them they are loved every single day, because this is far more important than being told they are beautiful, or clever or amazing. When you know you are loved, unconditionally, and without judgement, you know you are supported to try anything.
Praise is important if it reflects the person before you, rather than the person who you want them to pretend to be. Or the person you want them to try to be.
At all times, I guess, my goal is to “speak the truth with love”
Rachel Goodchild is managing director of Identify,
Rachel also provides training developing Early childhood leaders, and teaches on developmental behaviour of both young children and developing adults/employees. Part of her philosophy from extensive research and training has helpd construct her views expressed above.