“I’m so proud!” “What a good girl!” “You are SO talented!”
So, there are worse things to say to your child – right?
Of course! But… there are better things to say to them as well, without trafficking in the kind of never-ending praise that sends our kids into a “need it, crave it, got to have it” almost addiction to getting patted on the back.
For many families it’s the beginning of a very slippery slope into entitlement that they find hard to reverse.
“But Amy, that’s what parents DO.”
I get it!
You think you’re helping them be more poised and self-assured, but left unchecked, you may be setting your kid up to be a person who needs constant “that a boys” from everyone around them to feel good about his own ability or choices.
Younger praise junkies may seek approval from parents and teachers. “Do you like my singing, Daddy?” “Was that a good shot?”
But when they’re older – their limitless need for affirmation can send kids gravitating towards their peers or the boyfriend/girlfriend for approval, and becoming the kind of entitled, high-maintenance people that most of us don’t really want to be around.
So all good intentions aside, let’s start turning that praise junkie tide right now in your home with these three steps:
1. Help them learn to be their own best cheerleader
The trick is to turn the tables for them by switching their source for affirmation from external (you and the rest of the world) to internal (what they see in themselves) so that they can develop a healthy self-worth rather than rely on others to fill that void.
For example – when your child says, “Do you like my picture, Mommy?” Respond with, “Well, more importantly honey, what do YOU like about your picture? How does it make you feel?”
By making this one small shift you can encourage dialogue, internal reflection, and teach kids to be self-reliant for their self-image.
Is it easy at first? Maybe not. You’ll have to learn to say things like “You must be so proud of YOURSELF,” rather than “I’m so proud of you!”
That’s not to say that you can’t tell your kids you’re proud of them, but you also want to instill in them internal pride and motivation to try new things, excel at their talents, and make their own decisions. That way they won’t grow up to be the kind of people who feel the need to fish for compliments or entitled to praise for every little thing they do.
2. It’s about the process not the “end product”
Do your best to shift your dialogues from the end results to the process for your kids. Instead of focusing only on the “A” he earned on the spelling test, talk about how he studied and prepared for it. Instead of showering praise for your child’s score in the game, talk about how all the practice and perseverance paid off.
When kids focus on the process – how they can get to the end products rather than the final outcome itself, they still enjoy the highs from the wins, but don’t worry quite so much about the lows and they’ll be less dependent on others for approval.
3. Let go of the labels
Labels, even the positive ones, don’t help kids in the long run. We’re usually aware of the negative labels and their effect on kids, but to avoid raising praise junkies, we have to steer clear of the positive labels as well.
Labels like smart, pretty, and athletic are external labels that put unnecessary pressure on kids to always live up to them. If a child is defined as the “smart one,” how will she feel if she comes home with a “C” in Language Arts? Is she suddenly not “smart” anymore?
And of course, we don’t want kids to feel entitled to success or an easy ride because they are smart or talented. Again, focus on the things kids CAN control: hard work, perseverance, a great attitude, asking for extra help and more – and success is sure to follow.
Begin making these three simple shifts today and watch how your kids respond. Not only will they have your unconditional love and support but they’ll also begin to become their own best champion. They’ll learn to take pride in their accomplishments – and what it takes to reach them. All win-win-wins for you and your kids!
Want to learn more about keeping your kids from becoming praise junkies and how to curb entitlement in your home? Pick up a copy of Amy’s new book, The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. Available August 11, 2015 wherever books are sold.