As a parent, I know we spend a lot of time criticising our kids. Most of us do this nagging from a place of love. We don’t want our babies to grow up and make the same mistakes we did. But sometimes, we are quick to complain and slow to praise. We forget that everyone needs a pat on the back from time to time.
Parents – remember to say, “great job!” or “I really appreciate it when you do that” or “I love seeing your beautiful smile.”
When I was growing up, my family put a huge emphasis on academic performance. After awards night at school, I went to show my certificates and trophies to my grandma Cookie. I was proud of my Most Valuable Player trophy as starting pitcher on the softball team and the team captain’s trophy for the girls’ soccer team. But, my grandmother only wanted to see the academic certificates. In Algebra and Biology, I achieved 78 and 75 percent (respectively). She seemed to focus on that as a failure. And yet, I had gold award certificates of 90+ percent in every other subject and my beloved sports trophies! I was crushed.
The lesson unfolded with her explanation. She knew I hated math and science. She knew that these subjects forced me to work harder (the dissection of slimy frogs did me in and I saw no purpose in a²+b²=c²). The other classes where I did very well were easy for me and they were my favourite subjects. She wanted to teach me that in life, everyone faces things they will not like to do, but must do. Choosing to perform poorly only because you do not like something was bad.
While that lesson served me well in life, I would have loved a pat on the back for my sports trophies. Using this experience, I taught myself a better lesson.
In criticising and praising my kids, I act based on THEIR perspective. For my child that struggled in math, an increase from 65 percent to 68 was worth major praise. For the child who was an expert in literature and writing, a lazily-achieved 80 percent was noted compared to the lower class average. But, I chided him for performing below potential. A pitiful Art grade merited a discussion about what was happening in class. My kids’ productive work around the house, at church, in pet care, on sports teams, or with family and friends were also praised when required.
It is important to find what people CAN DO and focus on helping them to do that. It is about capability, not disability.
Verbally slapping down your kids over a poor grade is meaningless. But, examining why they received that grade and what life’s lessons have been learned makes more sense. Having a great mutual friendship or reading books (other than school texts) or singing in a choir is as laudable as scoring 85 percent on a test.
There are many kids with great school grades, who hang with the wrong crowd and get into trouble. They fail to develop high self-esteem, take illegal drugs, drink too much alcohol and engage in premature sex. They do this because they know nothing about life; they weren’t prepared to make good choices.
Some walk around as if their class, race, or parent’s money entitles them to a job and a living. Others live in their destructive realities. Balanced criticism and praise can teach self-respect and self-confidence.
Praise your kids, particularly for life’s little victories. If they never clean their rooms and you see them changing their dirty sheets one day, encourage that. If you are quick to criticize, balance that with a heartfelt comment that they look cute wearing their hair a particular way. Tell them that their help in the kitchen is much appreciated since you come home so tired from work.
Remember: Everyone needs a pat on the back sometimes. That smile after they receive praise is a balm for their souls.