Don’t worry, that’s not me, that’s the title of a commentary I recently heard on NPR’s all things considered, by Peter Sagal (of Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me fame):
All those people who think it’s impossible to praise one’s kids too much may need a little dose of reality. But essayist and father Peter Sagal says it won’t start with him — or his daughter’s tee-ball team.
There’s been a New York Times piece, a WSJ piece, an MSNBC bit — all kinds of press on the perils of praise. And I have to confess they all make sense to me. I liked what Patience had to say on that topic too.
Still, I really enjoyed Sagal’s lighter take on praise. And I liked what he said: When he stands up and yells “great job!” it is “propelled by a mighty interior wind of joy.” The thing is, he says, “I really mean it.”
I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to achieve the impossible: to be blank slates, totally neutral backrounds that never affect our children’s growth. We’re people too, and someday I predict that therapists will have to answer for the widespread belief that all of our interactions ideally mimic the theraputic model of dispassionate receptivity focused wholly on one-half of a two-person relationship. (Talk about developing a sense of entitlement!) Family relationships go in several directions, and it strikes me as unhealthy to squelch all your expressions of happiness in fear of “breaking” the fragile child’s psyche.
I make a concerted effort to teach my children to be proud of themselves rather than seeking external validation. When Violet starts hounding me about how much I like something she’s done, I ask her what she likes about it. I ask her to evalute her piano practice and tell me what she liked and what she wants to do next time. I help Victoria see how a strength she has in one area can help her meet a challenge in another area. I love to hear Victoria describe herself happily as “sturdy,” a word she learned from me.
And like everyone in our family, I have a highly developed critical side. We are all good at finding fault, and focusing on the tiny flaw in an otherwise wonderful movie, song, achievement, person, or day. And we are perfectionists, stuck with the belief that only what is perfect is good.
With all that going on, I am not going to feel guilty about genuine expressions of praise.
Now, where is my parenting trophy?