Are You Giving Your Kids the Right Kind of Praise?

By Courtney Elmer

As parents, we want to make sure we’re supporting, encouraging and loving our children through our affirming words and offering gentle guidance whenever necessary.

And, as Catholic parents, raising virtuous children is an even higher priority.

But, in an attempt to positively reinforce good behavior, we might actually do harm if we’re not praising the right kind of behavior.

Let me explain: too often we praise kids for what they do well. “Great job putting your toys away!” “You finished all your dinner, nicely done!” “Look at this report card! You’re so smart.”

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these compliments and affirmations, but all too often we praise children for what they do instead of affirming how they did it.

When you praise the former, you risk your children developing the mindset that they are only as good as how much they do or how well they perform. This is dangerous because it can create an unconscious pattern of behavior to “do” and “perform” whatever it takes to win the approval of others. It can also lead to low self-esteem, lack of confidence and can even burnout later in life as a result of overwork.

Don’t worry though, there’s good news. A simple tweak is all it takes to empower your kids to recognize their worth lies in who they are, not in how much they do. Instead of focusing your praise on what your child did or did not do, focus your praise on how they did it.

In other words, praise virtue.

Instead of “thanks for sharing your toys with your sister,” say: “That was so generous of you to share your toys.”

Instead of “Great job finishing your homework,” say: “Way to be responsible in finishing those assignments!”

By calling out the virtue the child practiced in the task at hand, you’ll be affirming them for who they are and reinforcing those positive virtues in their very character.

Need help identifying virtues? Google “List of Virtues” or check out your CCC 1803 – 1805 so that you’re prepared whenever the opportunity arises!

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