What am I praising my kids for- Is it for what they DO, or for who they ARE?
That is a question I constantly ask myself while trying to build confidence in Bauer and Reese. For kids at ages 10 and 12, I want them to know I absolutely love being their dad and I always accept them, even when they fail.
The easiest thing to do is default to praising their accomplishments. I mean, it comes naturally right? When Bauer does well at basketball, it’s the normal thing to say “great shot.” When Reese gets a good test score, I’m used to telling her, “I’m so proud of that good grade.” But focusing on the accomplishment itself doesn’t tell them we’re proud of THEM, it tells them we’re proud of what they DID.
Reese has always been a good speller. A highlight of her school year is the annual spelling bee. She studies for the weeks leading up to it and works super hard to get the words right. I remember doing the same thing when I was 10. The only difference between her and I? She gets the words right. She has typically finished well in the bee and a good friend hilariously joked to me recently, “Ya know, Reese is like the Tom Brady of the spelling bee. She’s already won enough and she should just be done now.”
Going into this year’s bee, she practiced and prepared as usual. The bee came and it was really fun. All the kids were so brave and confident. They were spelling words that you wouldn’t imagine, all in front of a pretty big audience! Finally, after a tense spelling battle, Reese misspelled a word. She was out. An awesome girl from her class won the bee. That sweet girl had also worked very hard, studied the words, and been excited and ready for the competition.
When the competition was over, I knew that Reese would be disappointed. I went up to her, gave her a hug and told her this: “Reesey, I’m proud of your courage in front of all those people. I’m proud of how hard you worked. I’m proud of how brave you were to take that on.” I focused on her character, not on what she had done.
The year before this, she had won the spelling bee. Afterward, I saw her and said something like this: “Reesey, I’m proud of your courage in front of all those people. I’m proud of how hard you worked. I’m proud of how brave you were to take that on.” I was not proud that she had won, I was proud of what what she had done to get there- effort, hard work, determination.
The best part about focusing on character rather than accomplishments is that it’s something our kids can control and repeat in the future. They can’t control if they always win, get an A+, or finish in first place. However, they can always be strong, brave, honest, loyal, courageous, trustworthy, and kind. These traits will get them somewhere in life and will also result in great rewards. Those traits are what I praise.
The truth is that there will be times when our kids finish last or don’t win. So what do we praise then? Instead of giving them a “Great job honey!” that they know is obligatory, we can build up the person that they are and are still becoming. They aren’t appreciated because they win something or finish in a certain position. They are loved and accepted because they are a human BEING, not a human DOING. When they know this from us as their parents, they can focus on building strong character, rather than doing things to win. Then great results will naturally follow.
Each one of us is a human BEING, not a human DOING!