Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Tough Stuff - careful praise

The Tough Stuff will be a new series of posts covering some parenting thoughts that are hard for me.  The things I lose sleep over.  The things I am afraid will screw up my kids.  The things that I, myself, don't always know how I feel about.  Maybe processing them here and hearing your thoughts will bring me a sense of peace.

This past fall sport season Charley tried something new.  Even though I LOVE watching him play soccer and I fear the idea of football, I was excited that he had the confidence to try something new.  So we went for it.  Towards the end of the season he said, "I wonder if I will get a trophy for football."  In t-ball and soccer he received a trophy at the end of each season.  Just. for. playing.

Hmmmm, this idea of a trophy gets me so agitated.  And so this time I honestly responded, "I hope not."  He looked at me shocked.  I explained how he has received trophies just for playing soccer and t-ball.  And he should be proud for playing all these seasons, he had fun, learned lots, and grew as a player -but when I was growing up a trophy was saved for the BIG win or the MVP player.  It was earned.  It was not just given because you signed up.  He paused.  He agreed.  And at the end of the football season...there was no trophy or ribbon or certificate.  Does he want to play again - you bet.  Did he need to get the trophy - I guess not.  He didn't even comment that he didn't get one.

I know the trophy made him super excited.  But as his mom, I worry that by getting a trophy just for being on the team and playing his best - sets him up to expect a trophy every season.  And at some point things will get more competitive and his team won't get the trophy.  So why set them up for the trophy at the age of 5.

And quite honestly, I have NO IDEA where and what to do with all the trophies.

 As I watch Charley grow as a learner, reader, thinker, athlete and school boy I work hard to use the language that will inspire hard work.  Saying things like "Wow, I can tell you worked hard at that."  Instead of "great job." or "You're so smart."  Kids can tell when your comments are sincere and if they mean the real deal.  When I was teaching we had many workshops on teacher language and now as a parent I can see it can also be called parenting language. 

I am careful not to use general phrases that just boost Charley's ego.   I want him to be able to identify what my praise is directed at...or better yet...offer questions that cause the praise to come out of his own mouth...

Example, "Wow Charley, what is your favorite part?  What part did you work hardest on?  Tell me about your work?"  Instead of just saying, "Great picture."  Because kids are smart.  They know when the person across the table can read, write, draw, or color better than them.  And they will quickly be able to identify the genuine praise that shares truth. 

This goes for Henry.  When the boys are coloring side by side...if they have both drawn pictures of pumpkins and I say good job to both of them...they can figure out that one of them did an overall better job than the other.  So instead I can tell Charley "WOW!  The eyes on your pumpkin are super scary."  And I can tell Henry, "Crazy orange.  You used so much crazy orange."  Then they can sit and take in your comment and feel so proud of their picture.  I have seen them do this.  Sit and look and take in what I have said.

I do not want Charley to start placing things he has to learn into two categories...things that he is smart at and come naturally and  things that he isn't smart at and are too hard.  I want instead for him to recognize the things that come easily and be driven to work hard to master the things that are new, challenging, and awesome.  I want him to choose the harder task because he isn't afraid of failing and he is inspired to succeed.  I want him to try new things instead of playing it safe so he gets the trophy. 

It is hard.  And I have not mastered parenting language.  I say, "Great job kiddo" way too often.  I forget.  But I try.  I challenge myself to think more about how I speak to my children about their accomplishments.   And I am GLAD that he didn't get a trophy for playing football this year - because honestly, I don't think he caught the dang ball one time.  And that's okay.  He had a blast and wants to do it again.      

Deliberate praise.  I wish someone could sit on my shoulder and give me some praise each time I am deliberate about my parenting language.


Raina and Andy said...

great post. because i've never been to any workshop on parenting or teaching-this made me look at things SO different. thanks for opening my eyes to this. i love how you talk to your kids and sometimes think "yeah, i sound like sarah" and other times i think "where the heck did that come from?" ha. great post. can't wait for the next. RR

The Tompkins Family said...

Fantastic post. This is something I need to work on as well. It's so easy to praise every single little thing they do.

Anonymous said...

Great post! We haven't been too involved in sports yet, but have always thought the trophy for participating wasn't a good idea.
Last year my daughter won a writing contest and won a trophy at school. It was last year and still when someone new comes over she brings it out to show them. She is so proud of it (and should be). So I would hate for that to mean less because she gets one every time just for playing.
Great post to get me thinking on a Monday morning!

Colleen said...

Just that you are conscious of this and are insightful enough to put it into words, makes me think you are one heck of a Mom! You are not comfortable with what is easiest or feelings of complacency---that makes you a terrific mom! my humble opinion ;)

Crystal said...

This is definitely something to think about it - I catch myself offering praise over every little thing - so easy to do! Your post really made me think about how I talk to the kids, especially when they are side by side coloring or doing something crafty, clearly with different levels of skill. Thanks for opening my eyes to this!


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