Every so often, you can stumble across lists online of the most stressful jobs in our country. Usually topping the list – and deservedly so - are those jobs that require someone to put his or her life on the line in the servitude of others: jobs like military, firefighters, or police officers.
I've always thought that full-time parents should get some love on these lists. It's certainly a taxing and stressful job to care daily for young children. Parents bear the burdens of the family and hold themselves responsible for their children's successes and failures. There's a lot of pressure on the job: everything we say and do as parents has a tremendous impact on our kids.
Much has been written about parenting styles across generations. Some say the current “millennial” generation is entitled, due largely to how they were raised. They were given “participation trophies” and complimented about everything. But, does it really make that big of an impact?
Focus on the Family writes that “By and large, youngsters aren’t hurt by over-inflated praise. Our obvious delight in their stick-figure drawing is exactly the response our little one was hoping for.
But as our children mature, we need to give a little more thought to how we praise them, and how our praise impacts them. Heaping well-meant but ill-conceived praise on kids of elementary age and older can backfire, having the very opposite result parents intended. As it turns out, kids need just the right kind of praise.”
The words we say do matter. When we praise our children, here are four types of compliments I feel we should avoid as parents.
1. Compliments that compare them to other children.
To be clear, I think it's important to instill confidence in your children. Especially as a father, it's important for me to tell my daughter how beautiful she is. But, any compliment that compares my child to her peers has the danger of encouraging arrogance and a sense of superiority. Kids who constantly receive this kind of praise go on to view themselves as better than everyone else, largely because they've been told they are. In actuality, it should be the reverse. We are to be humble and teach our kids to be, as well. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
2. Compliments that are not genuine.
Lately, my daughter has been having some honesty issues. She'll often misrepresent, or outright lie, about silly things of no consequence. Of course, she receives her due punishment, as honesty is not only the best policy, it is the policy in our house. But, am I living by my own policy? When we compliment our children, is it always genuine and truthful? Kids are smart, and I believe they can see through empty praise. Over time, they may lose trust and not believe our genuine compliments if they've heard too many that weren't.
3. Compliments that focus on talent or results over effort.
In the movie Talladega Nights, Will Ferrell's character Ricky Bobby talks of his father teaching him that “If you ain't first, you're last.” There's nothing wrong with encouraging your child's competitive spirit. That is, if we are encouraging them to always try their best. When a child only hears compliments about positive results, he or she may believe our love is dependent on how they perform.
4. Compliments that focus on outward standards over inward character.
“The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is more concerned about what's on the inside than what the world sees on the outside. When our children make choices that exemplify strong character, it's a prime opportunity for us to reward them with praise. Those are the things we should focus on.
Parenting is stressful. We are responsible for leading and molding our children into the adults they'll eventually become. For that reason, it's important that we choose our words carefully. At the same time, it's important to remember that we have some pretty impressive backup for the job. We have an all-knowing Father there to help us raise our children, we just have to ask. “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).
A Prayer for Parents
Father, thank you for the opportunity you have given us to be a parent. When we are down or discouraged, or when it seems like we don't know what we are doing, please guide us. Give us the words to speak into the lives of our children. Help us to know the exact way we should encourage them, so they grow into the people you would have them to be. Amen.
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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