A cold, grey day, chilling out (literally…brrrr!), on the school field for “Super-team day”. This has to be one of the first events I’ve seen during my kids’ (ages 9 and 7) school life where competition and winning were mentioned – maybe even encouraged, by someone other than the kids! I find it amazing that at every hockey game, soccer match, or baseball competition the kids always know the score even though it hasn’t been registered. Adults encourage the “it’s just for fun” approach. I often find myself debating whether it’s best to encourage all kids by praising even those who are unsuccessful in a sport or to save the recognition for those who excel or at least engage and put in a consistent effort. Many times I hear parents exclaim, “Good job!”, even when the athletic accomplishment is far from it. I’m not saying this is wrong, I’m no expert in either parenting or psychology. What I’m wondering is whether this is best for the child or if we should be more honest. Every child has talents and strengths, perhaps we should focus on those and help them to understand that we can’t be good at everything. I can’t help but think about how this affects a person’s ability to deal with feedback later in life. If they haven’t endured honest, constructive criticism as they grow up, can they really deal with it as an adult?
I went digging around to see if I could find a psychologist opinion. This is a quote from Jim Taylor Ph.D from his blog “The Power of Prime”:
“What’s the problem with “Good job?” Well, it’s lazy praise, it’s worthless praise, it’s harmful praise. It has no value to children, yet parents have been brainwashed into thinking that it will build their children’s self-esteem. Plus, it’s the expedient thing to say.”
Click here to read the full post. (It’s an interesting read).
That said, it pulls at the heart-strings when your child returns from a race feeling defeated, (I know! It happened today!). The temptation to reassure with statements such as “It’s ok, you did well”, is almost overwhelming. No-one wants to face tears and a full breakdown (in the kid or the parent!). I don’t think it’s right to kick a man while he’s down – “look son, that was useless!”, for example is not going to achieve a lot either – and it most certainly won’t boost self-esteem. Kids are resilient. I like the idea of the quiet approach – they know when they have or haven’t done well. They’ll figure out how to deal with defeat and when to celebrate a win! I find my kids will get over defeat but like to hear about specific things they have mastered. This works for my kids, but might not be right for everyone. What do you think? Is it best to encourage with simple praise regularly? Should we be more sparing? What works for you?