Best-Selling Parenting and Children's Book Author

It’s Okay to Praise Your Child, Just Like it’s Okay to ‘Like’ this Post

As writers, we’ve all had the experience of publishing a piece we’ve worked hard putting together, and then posting it to Facebook, sharing it on Twitter, and pinning it on Pinterest…and having it just sit there, unliked, unshared, untweeted, and unpinned. Now, logically, we might know that only a small percentage of our audience sees what we share at any given time. And we know that, while some pieces we write hit just the right note at the right time and go flying around the blogosphere, others might need time to catch on or might simply remain a lonely, little, unread, unloved piece of ourselves that we’ve bravely put out there and the world has overlooked. But even knowing all of that, in those times when we share and no one hears us, when we bare our hearts and no one responds, the silence can feel like rejection, the work can feel pointless, the investment can feel wasted.

Our readers have lives of their own that usually don’t include hours of research and writing and editing and formatting and tagging and linking. They may not realize that their likes, comments, and shares are major motivators for us. They might not understand that, while our passion for our message, whatever that may be, is what drives us, their response is like a pat on the back, and a simple “Well said!” can make our day. And they may not be remotely conscious of how deflating, demoralizing, and depressing that awkward, deafening silence can be when a post goes ignored.

Most of us don’t make a penny from our blogs, but we’re okay with the heavy time investment, the personal sacrifices, and the risks involved in sharing our hearts so transparently…as long as we are heard. And how do we know if we’re being heard? Our readers’ responses, their ‘likes,’ their pins and tweets and shares, and their comments that tell us they’re listening, that they care, and that they appreciate our work.

And what makes writers want to quit? What makes them want to shut down their laptops, hang up their message, and go back to watching sit-coms, reading books, or doing whatever they used to do when they actually had downtime? Well, certainly meanness from people who’d rather cause trouble than just move on to another site, for one, but often it’s simply the silence that drains away the motivation. Sharing your heart with a world that doesn’t respond makes a person feel small, insignificant, unappreciated.

Enter the child.

A child comes to his mother with a drawing that resembles a game of pick-up-sticks and proudly announces that he’s designed a new airplane. She grins and says, “Good job!” and he runs off happily to draw some more pick-up-stick inventions. But his mother is cringing at her choice of words, wishing she’d stopped mid-diaper change with the new baby and turned her full attention to her son and said something like, “I see that you worked hard. You used lots of colors,” or something, anything that didn’t pander to his need for attention or approval. What if she turned him into a ‘praise junkie’?!? Bad mom! she castigates herself. When her son returns a few minutes later and enthusiastically shows her his pick-up-stick submarine, she’s ready. She smiles awkwardly, nods her head and says, “You obviously are trying to use your imagination. I see that you are in a creative mood. What else are you going to invent today?” in a stiff and unnatural tone. Her son stands there for a moment, not quite sure how to respond, then shrugs and drifts off to another activity.

Now, clearly, using “Good job” as a brush-off in lieu of taking the time to pay any real attention to a child is the core issue that parenting experts are getting at when they encourage parents to focus on the child and the effort instead of the product or achievement. But so often parents read these kinds of articles and come away feeling, as a concerned mother recently expressed to me, “Like I’m doing it all wrong. I feel like I’m messing up my child when I tell him I like what he’s done.” That mother wasn’t brushing her child off with her praise. She was interacting with her child with a natural, honest enthusiasm that may now be damaged by something she read. It breaks my heart to think of her little guy running up to show her his latest creation only to be met with an unnatural and stilted response because his mother is afraid her instincts aren’t good enough.

Here’s the thing, a healthy, natural, loving parent/child relationship trumps all. It is the foundation for autonomy, not merely a satellite aid to independence. It is the wellspring of confidence and trust that leads to exploration, creativity, and innovation. It is the safe harbor from which daring and boldness and risk can be launched to take on the world.

A parent whose focus is on connection will respond to their child’s need in the moment, whether that need is praise for a job well done or encouragement in the face of failure. A parent focused on ‘getting the words right’ may well inadvertently leave their child’s present needs unmet because they are afraid to respond naturally.

Just as it is the hungry child, not the satisfied child, who craves food, it is unmet needs that lead to attention seeking behaviors and unspoken approval that can create ‘praise junkies’ as the unpraised child seeks to fill the very human need we all have for validation.

Just as with adults, and specifically with those of us who are writers, children need to know they are being heard and appreciated. A ‘like’ on a post to us is like a pat on the back to a child, and a “Well said!” to a writer is like a “Good job!” to a child. In the same way that these acknowledgements don’t undermine our driving passions, but support and encourage them, spontaneous and sincere expressions of appreciation to a child don’t undermine a child’s passion to learn and grow and become. It is, in fact, the exact opposite. A parent’s sincere, spontaneous praise encourages and motivates a child to blossom in the warmth of their approval.

With my six children, while they are infants I am happy to let them independently scoot and shuffle and roll in an effort to reach a toy, but I am there to offer help the second they express frustration so they will grow up knowing that they never have to struggle alone in life. When they are older and happily working on a drawing or popsicle-stick invention, I don’t hesitate to spontaneously express my enjoyment of their creation. That isn’t interference. It’s a connection point, a message that they don’t have to actively seek my approval for it to be theirs.

I know that the world won’t always treat my children kindly. I know that failure, disapproval, and rejection will inevitably be a part of their lives. But I want my children to grow up knowing that there is one place in the world where help is always available, and approval, acceptance, and appreciation are always freely offered. I want my children to have the assurance of a safe harbor to return to so that they will have the confidence to take on all the challenges the world will throw at them.

And so, parents, the message here is this: Read and research and educate yourself about all the various ideas and methods and theories about how to raise happy, healthy, confident children, but at the end of the day remember that you are your child’s parent. You love your child more and know them better than anyone else on earth. Don’t let anything stop you from responding naturally and lovingly to your child’s needs, whether those needs are for a high-five, a “Good job,” a thumb’s up, or just a great big bear hug.

Remember, the only bad praise is the sincerely meant praise that is silenced. ~L.R.Knost

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matt. 25:21

 

Listen to the sound of silence.

Related posts:

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

Your Baby isn’t Trying to Annoy You; He’s Trying to Communicate!

Tots to Teens~Communication Through the Ages and Stages

Jesus~The Gentle Parent

3 Simple Steps from Diapers to Potty

A Place to Rest~Becoming Your Child’s Safe Harbor

Love in the Time of Cosleeping

The Butterfly Effect

Toddlers: Teens in the Making

I Spy…A Bad Mom

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.

22 Responses

  1. Teila Firth

    I ‘like’ this! And continue to be inspired, empowered and helped so much by all these posts.
    Thank you little hearts/gentle parenting.
    You keep me sane and help me in some way every day in my striving to be a better parent to my beloved children.
    T x

    June 28, 2012 at 6:37 pm

  2. Sarah

    Thank you for this. This is something I have been struggling with. “Good Job” comes out so easily – especially when she has learned something new. Now I won’t be afraid to say “Good Job” when she needs it.

    June 28, 2012 at 8:05 pm

  3. Cathie

    “Well said!”

    Seriously, well said!! :-) I know what you mean about those stiff, and somewhat rehearsed responses… Have tried to vary my responses to encourage communication and connection about the achievement/activity/project etc, but in the end, whatever I say just needs to be sincere and promote true connection with my child.

    Well said.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:04 pm

  4. L.R. Knost

    Thank you, mamas! I’m catching a bit of flack over this piece, lol. That’s okay, though. Differing viewpoints help us to think through and define what we believe and why we believe it. :)

    June 28, 2012 at 10:20 pm

  5. I like the blogging analogy… who among us bloggy types hasn’t had that post that silently slips under everyone’s radar?

    But I would like to posit that using “Good job” as an unthinking response to communication from a child is just as bad as a stilted reply.

    “Good job” when over-used looses its meaning. I know many adults for whom it’s the automatic response, void of any connection. And practicing specific responses that connect with your child makes them less stiff and awkward.

    Sadly, in our society, we tend to favor an all-or-nothing approach. It’s easy to swing to one extreme or the other. Finding the middle ground is harder, but ultimately more rewarding, I feel.

    Is it bad to say “Good job” to your child? No… as long as it’s genuine and responsive as opposed to automatic or dismissive.

    One of my favorite things to say to my boys is “I love to watch you play/sing/read a story”. I got the idea from a fellow blogger. htp://www.handsfreemama.com/2012/04/16/six-words-you-should-say-today

    June 28, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    • L.R. Knost

      Agreed, mama! As I mentioned, it’s that ‘brush-off’ use of praise that parenting experts are really targeting, for the most part. But, like you said, it often comes across as all-or-nothing and parents end up confused and afraid to trust themselves. :(

      June 28, 2012 at 10:29 pm

  6. Courtnay

    I literally sighed and felt my body relax reading this! I so badly want to be the best mother I can… And when I read about the praise, anytime I say “nice work” or “good job” I feel like I’m scarring my almost 3 yo praise seeker. Thank you for your kind thoughts.
    Also… I’ve read TONS of your stuff and LOVED it but never know what to say…. So thank you and sorry for being shy…

    June 29, 2012 at 12:02 am

  7. Gwennifer

    Just wanted to say I always read and never comment, but I promise it doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention…

    June 29, 2012 at 3:46 am

  8. L.R. Knost

    No worries, mamas <3 Thank you for reading!

    June 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm

  9. Amy

    Thanks so much for this post! I’ve also struggled with this after reading about the dangers of creating praise junkies, though I generally err on the side of giving the praise – going with what feels natural hasn’t failed me yet! As you say, it’s all about being sincere in our interactions with them, and seeking ways for us to connect. You should see my son when he does something nice – he gets so pleased and proud of himself he starts wiggling and twisting – it would be just cruel to not express how pleased I am as well. Your post articulates this so well :)

    June 29, 2012 at 11:08 pm

  10. Absolutely! I’m all for researching and considering, but ultimately we need to remember that we’re the experts of our kids. Our default should be to trust ourselves and “praise” our kids when we’re genuinely impressed or delighted. Kids, like adults, eventually learn how to read when it’s sincere or not. You summed it up nicely in your last paragraph. “LIKE” :)

    June 30, 2012 at 1:15 am

  11. I have never before read your blog but I came across this and I loved the thoughts that you shared here, thank you!

    June 30, 2012 at 8:22 pm

  12. eleanor

    Hello. I just discovered your blog today- it’s been posted by “the mule” (another cool lady). As someone else already said, this post eased a huge worry that what I instinctively feel is not the “correct” response. I totally agree that a genuine response/interaction is worth a million adjusted ones. Kids know when you’re just brushing them off, or saying things that aren’t real, just as they can sense that you’re delighted with something. I’ve read a few of your posts today; the camp in “a place for me” is fantastic- so appealing! I used to do that same thing and I hope to encourage my boy to do the same when he’s a little older (he’s 15 months). I think it’s very important to learn to create a safe nest, to be able to enjoy your own company, and to have control of your environment.
    Anyway, bedtime now! I really wanted to say I am listening, and I’ve already been inspired by a brief skim thru your stuff and I plan to come again! I only wish I was half as articulate and passionate as you are. All the work you’ve done definitely seems worthwhile to me. It’s given me some positive thoughts to go to sleep with. Thanks.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm

  13. L.R. Knost

    Thank you, mamas. I’m glad you each found something here that resonated with you! :)It’s a lot easier walking out this parenting journey when we have others who share our ideals to chat and share thoughts and concerns and encouragement with!

    July 3, 2012 at 8:32 pm

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  15. Irene

    Super like this post! Thank you for making me feel ‘unguilty’ about telling my daughter, “good job!” time and time again. I have tried varying my comments/praises but ultimately this is the most natural, and the best she responds to :-)

    September 13, 2012 at 9:08 pm

  16. Katie Williams

    Thank you for sharing this. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to think of it when I read the title. I thought, if anything, I’d be leaving a comment politely disagreeing! I appreciate that you acknowledged that the thoughtless utterance of “Good job”, the insincere, brushoff “Good job” if you will, should still be avoided. But your point about unmet needs being what leads to attention seeking behaviors is right on. Anyway, I really appreciated this piece. Thank you again for sharing!

    December 12, 2012 at 9:01 am

  17. I just found this post today via your Facebook page. I LOVE it!!! Thank you–both as a mom who wants to get it right and a blogger who has kind of lost steam due to not getting that feedback. I am so glad you are doing what you are doing. :)

    December 12, 2012 at 10:08 am

  18. Love this! I haven’t read your blog before, but I really enjoyed this one. I love your blogging analogy. I’m a sporadic blogger for exactly the reasons you gave. I would hate to see my grandson unwilling to create or enjoy any aspect of life because he doesn’t receive the affirmation he needs. I know I’m old school, but having been a mom, elementary teacher, Sunday school teacher, babysitter, etc, etc, it has always been my experience that what kids need is attention and encouragement. They really don’t care if you help them evaluate the components of the art. They are looking for words of affirmation. Someone to say, “You are special… and I love what you’ve done.” The simple words “good job” accomplish exactly that whereas I think some of the more acceptable responses can make them feel like something may be lacking in their effort.

    December 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm

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