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Parents: Guides or Cheerleaders?

How Much Is Too Much Praise?


This might be one of those times in which I get in trouble with my readers, as I do every now and then. When I do, it is usually because my opinion goes against what’s trendy or, at the very least, considered as accepted in today’s society. So, here I go.

Since we just passed graduation time, let me say this. I have an issue with children having big graduation celebrations — with guests, presents, and fancy parties — before finishing high school, and in general, with parents overly praising their children for everything they do.

Silvia Uribe

Some parents exaggerate their praises even when their children have done nothing at all. Have you watched the show “Sweet 16,” or attended a “Quinceañera” lately? Praising children for what they do well is one thing, and I completely support encouraging them, the same way I support parents being their children’s handy behavior thermometer. When they do something good or when they are responsible, we should moderately praise them; when they don’t, we should give them feedback — from a couple of words or time-out to eliminating privileges, depending on the child’s age. It is all about balance.

As parents, our role is to be our children’s guide, not just their cheerleaders.

If we excessively or disproportionately praise them, we’re at risk of causing the opposite effect than the one we’re trying to attain. Throwing a big graduation party, for example, before finishing high school could harm our children more than it could help them get ahead with their academic achievements.

Why? Because it is like with anything else: Human beings try to accomplish the things that they can dream about.

When kids see what a high school or college graduation entails, all the preparations, the presents given, the diploma, the party, and in general, the excitement that this generates in our society, it is something that they can look forward to. That’s the right time to really praise our youth for a successful career as a student. The message here is this: First comes the commitment, then the effort, then the dedication, and at the end, the big celebration.

That’s how life goes. Is it not our goal as parents to give our children tools that they can use to craft a successful life for themselves? The meaning of that celebration gets diluted if we do it over and over, starting from kindergarten. If we take the anticipation from the equation, what are they going to look forward to? The risk with this lack of motivation is that they may be tempted to not finish their basic education, and the consequences could be devastating – they wouldn’t have the knowledge to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

Our children are special to no one else but us, their parents. For others, our children are exactly like any other kid now and will be treated like any other adult in the future. They will have the same challenges we had, or more, and we better make sure that they have the tools to rise above those challenges and understand that they will need the abilities, the resiliency, the brains, and good work habits to succeed. If we as parents exceed our praises, they will expect the same thing from the rest of the world, and that would make for a false promise that we’re making to them.

The messages that we communicate to our children with our actions, are even more important than those spoken. We should avoid communicating that little or no effort will do the trick for them in the future, or that others should or would be as accepting and benevolent with them as we as parents are.

Let’s give our children the right praises in the right amount, at the right time, and let’s also teach them that nothing will be simply given to them because they’re cute. Let’s not make them feel special, but smart and capable.

And, let’s also make sure they know that the only path to success is hard work and an endless amount of perseverance on their part.

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