I love praise. I have told parents, friends, clients, strangers. I think that it is one of the best ways to a) make people feel good about themselves and b) help to shape children’s behaviors as they grow. I’ve written about it on more than one occasion. It’s safe to say that I think praise is super. But in reflecting on my praiseworthy thoughts, I realized that so much of the praise that I write about is praise for doing something. Great job tying your shoes! Way to keep your hands to yourself! Wonderful listening! But there is another important kind of praise, the praise that shows unconditional love. I sometimes forget that it’s just as critical (if not more so) to praise kids simply for being who they are.
I love spending time with you.
You are such a neat kid.
I was thinking about you while you were at school.
I’m so lucky to have you in my life.
I’m glad we get to hang out just the two of us.
I missed you while you were away.
You make me smile.
Other great ways to convey this type of praise:
Pat on the back
Write a note
Watch them while they play
Smile at them
Fred Rogers is one of the best role models of such praise and affirmation. He is a bit of a revered figure in our shared hometown of Pittsburgh, though his influence is felt far beyond Western Pennsylvania. He was one of the first adults who I heard say that he liked me, even though it was through a television screen.
The argument can be made for overdoing praise when we’re commending our kids on their ability to listen or get dressed by themselves or not hit their siblings, I don’t know if one can argue that being praised and loved for who you are can be overused. Besides building self-esteem, self-confidence and feelings of worthiness, we’re also strengthening the bond between us and our kids. I will love you no matter what. Even if I don’t like something that you do, I will still love you.
Mr. Rogers said it well in song:
It’s you I like, every party of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself, it’s you,