I cringe every time I see a little child singing like a nightingale or twirling like a graceful gazelle on the numerous talent shows on television. The audience is rapturous and the media goes gaga over this sorry spectacle. The praises and the beaming faces of mom and dad are what the child lives for.
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It is truly sad when a child’s self-worth is tied to his/her performance not for who they really are. They become prized possessions Further, they are not intrinsically valued for just being human. That’s their childhood message. They can’t just Be who they truly are, they have to Become something. They have to live up to the erroneously inflated opinions others have formed of them.
Indiscriminate Praise Is Not Great ParentIng
In today’s world of perfect parenting, there is no room for negativity. Every word and action has to be positive. Most of us parents who grew up with highly critical parents are on red-alert when it comes to raising our kids. We have been incorrectly misled into believing that praising raises our kids’ self-esteem which leads to adult success.
But current research suggests otherwise — over the past decade, a number of studies on self-esteem have come to the conclusion that praising a child as ‘clever’, ‘exceptional’ does not help him/her at school. Nor does it help self-esteem in the long run.
In fact, it might cause kids to under-perform. Or very often they get stuck in the mold of what makes mom and dad happy. They have to be the perfect model child that their parents like to brag and show around.
Empty Praise As Bad As Criticism
Psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz in his book, The Examined Life, decries the current trend of mindlessly praising normal childhood,
He says “Admiring our children may temporarily lift our sense of self-esteem but it isn’t doing much for a child’s sense of self. Empty praise is as bad as thoughtless criticism — it expresses indifference to the child’s feelings and thoughts.”
The current societal politically correct behavior makes even mild criticism a big no when it comes to our kids. However, Groz states that mindless praising is as harmful as scathing criticism, it can cause a loss of confidence.
Once kids are caught in the praise-trap of their parents’ expectation, they can’t afford to fail. They will do anything to maintain their status quo. Their self-esteem gets invariably tied to their daily dose of fawning praise of the adults in their life. They fear being judged that they end up lying and cheating just to keep up with their perceived image.
Why is this generation of parents so keen on praising its children? One reason, says Grosz, is that many of us were brought up in families in which criticism was the default mode. We praise our children to “demonstrate that we are different from our parents”.
Presence Not Praise Is What Kids Need
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs after our physiological and safety, needs comes our need for love and belongingness.
The need for appreciation and respect comes fourth.
Only when the bottom three levels have been satisfied, true self-esteem develops. Our lower needs must be satisfied before we can truly strive to fulfill the need for esteem and self-actualization.
Truly loving our kids show them they are valued. How do we do this? We give them the gift of our presence.
We need to be present for our kids, spend time with them, enjoy their vibrancy and revel in their uniqueness.
According to noted psychotherapist M. Scott Peck “When we give them the gift of our attention we make our kids feel valuable and important.”
Moreover, children who are truly loved (spent time with) unconsciously know themselves to be valued. This knowledge is worth more than gold because they then feel valuable, in the deepest parts of themselves.
This feeling of being valuable is essential to mental health and a cornerstone of self-discipline. It is a direct product of parental love, extremely difficult to acquire during adulthood.
Your presence is the best present you give your child. It builds your child’s confidence by showing he is worthy of your thoughts and attention.
To feel valued (and valuable) is almost as compelling a need as food. The more our value feels at risk, the more preoccupied we become with defending and restoring it, and the less value we’re capable of creating in the world.
Failing, Falling & Not Fitting Is Okay
However, when parents and society arbitrarily praise a child and value their achievements rather than their efforts they are only raising a generation of high-anxiety individuals. Any negativity and criticism is a big blow to their fragile sense of self.
For a child to develop healthy and accurate self-esteem, they need the acceptance and validation of their parents. To know that they are loved in spite of their faults and are respected despite their differences. They don’t have to pretend or be caricatures and hide their true selves just so they will be accepted.
As parents we need to stop pushing our kids to deliver, rather we should encourage their endeavors and laud their efforts whether they succeed or fail.
They need to know that success is a never-ending journey and praising just one destination only leads to stagnation and decay. Our loving presence gives them the courage to fail, push ahead and find success in their own unique choices.
The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck