I’ve recently discovered that there’s a right and wrong way to praise children, and I, of course, have been doing it aaaaall wrong. Not only have I been “cheapening” my words when I’ve praised my children, I may have actually been harming their development. I’ve created praise-junkies, afraid to to take risks for fear of not getting their next hit of approval. In fact, when I think I’m praising my children, I may actually be “belittling” them, because I am sending them the message that their every move is some sort of high wire performance for my benefit and judgment.
Now whenever an errant “Good job!” escapes my lips, I clap my hand over my mouth and try to counteract the bad I’ve put out into the universe by immediately shouting out something more appropriate:
“I mean: ‘I can see that you worked hard on that!'”
After my child wins a soccer game, rather than “Great game!”, I have to remind myself to say, “I loved watching you play…Not because you’re a good player or anything, but because I truly enjoy sitting in the blazing sun/freezing cold/pouring rain watching you and your friends kick a ball around the field for an hour.”
It’s frankly exhausting. What? It’s not enough just to keep these little people alive?!
My daughter has been a part of a Destination Imagination team for three years now. Last year was the first year her team was old enough to compete. They had a wonderful time, but did not advance beyond the first round of competition. This year, before they had even competed, she was chirruping away about the Global Tournament. I felt that it was my duty to manage her expectations. I kept gently interrupting her reveries by saying things like, “…It’s actually quite difficult to qualify for Globals. Only a few teams get to go…” and “Let’s see how you guys do at the Regional Tournament first…” She took it on the chin for awhile, but one day she narrowed her eyes and said, “Wait a minute…Do you have low expectations for us?!”
Clearly, I haven’t yet hit upon the right balance.
Two weekends ago my daughter’s team competed at the Regional Tournament and qualified to advance to the State Tournament, so this past Friday she and I headed to Harrisonburg, Virginia. We shared a hotel room for the night with our good friends, who also happen to be the DI team manager and her son. I think my daughter may have slept three hours. She spent the rest of the night thrashing, getting drinks of water, going to the bathroom, and being shushed by her increasingly grumpy mother…
The rest of the team and the rest of our family showed up the next day for the competition.
Because I’ve been appraising other challenges, I’d never actually been able to see my daughter’s team perform this year. She looked like this!
The gym before the Award Ceremony looked like this!
The kids were feeling rather glum when the awards were announced and they didn’t place high enough to advance to the Global Tournament. I was mentally preparing my consolation speech, when they were announced as the winners of the Instant Challenge part of the competition!
At the very end of the ceremony two “Wild Card” teams were pulled out of a cup. The only teams who could qualify for the drawing to advance to the Global Tournament had to have placed first in either the Instant Challenge or the Main Challenge…They won!
awesome hard-working team is going to the Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee!
Two years ago when my son’s team advanced to the Global Tournament, my daughter was crushed when her mean mother didn’t pull her out of school so that she could accompany her brother to the tournament. Here she is saying goodbye to him as he headed off back then:
And here they are on Saturday!
Knoxville, Tennessee here she comes…despite all the damage her mother has inflicted upon her psyche over the years!