Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Praise Your Kids

Volunteering for the Food Bank

Recently my oldest son came home and complained to me that his teacher was mad at him. She told him he had given her a rude response.

This isn't like my son, mostly, so I asked for details. Apparently he hadn't done a homework assignment and when the teacher asked why, he replied "I had a really busy weekend."

Yikes. Totally rude in my opinion. 

Then the teacher told him she had 22 years of busy weekends. (That cracked me up, but I kept it to myself.)

My son proceeded to blame everyone for not reminding him of the homework, except himself. He just didn't want to admit he had made a mistake. So I reminded him teachers have always told me he is one of the people who always admits when they are wrong. He's flipped his card at school and admitted misbehavior when others have lied. I told him I was more unhappy that he was blaming others for his mistake than for missing the assignment, then we sat down and did the assignment. 

This little incident got me thinking about how praise changes when our children get older. 

When kids are little, we praise them for using the potty, using a fork and spoon, sharing with friends. As they grow up we praise them for learning to tie their shoes, write their name, and helping around the house. A lot of the praise I give now is about personal hygiene and good manners: wash your hands, say thank you, don't sneeze on the buffet.

Praise in our house usually includes the words "you worked hard" and "you didn't give up" and "that was a creative way to solve the problem." We also praise (or punish) their choices. We don't praise our kids by saying "you're so good" or "you're so smart." We say "great choice" or "not so good choice." 

But my oldest is turning ten, and our praise is now shifting away from mastering physical skills to choosing positive social behaviors, things that we often expect in a harmonious society but aren't mentioned in parenting books. 

I want them to think about others. But I can't hear their thoughts, so I have to look for actions that show they are thinking about others. Lately I've been focusing on "catching the door" and not just walking through thinking someone else will hold it for you. They have trouble with this one so there have been a few door-to-the-face reminders. 

I want them to not answer rudeness with rudeness. So I'm talking out loud when I'm driving about how I navigate situations where people cut in front of others or honk their horns impatiently. I find this helps me calm down, too, when I'm frustrated. 

I want them to be generous so I signed them up for volunteering events this year. They were nervous at first and tired at the end, but I believe they learned about the gratitude that comes from volunteering.

I asked my friend who is a mom of three and a school psychologist what she's working on with her kids. 
"Perseverance! Effort over outcome, definitely admitting mistakes, giving up something they want to give to another. It's tricky because I think often people of strong character do the right thing without drawing attention to it and our kids may be doing the same and we (or their teachers, coaches, friends) might not catch it.  The negative things are more obvious and grab our attention but we should be focused on the positive." 
I don't praise my kids for every little thing, but I try to use praise to reinforce my expectations. But no one's perfect, which is why I'm modeling how I handle mistakes and how I have to admit them, try to make things right, and forgive myself. It's hard to screw up in front of your kid and admit it! But when my kids make mistakes, like forgetting homework, I want them to handle it the right way and not blame others.

As your kids get older, what are you trying to teach them? How has your praise changed?