"You shouldn't praise your kids for everything they do". This was the topic of an article I read a few weeks ago. The author was basically saying that one of the many problems with kids today is the fact that we, as parents, teachers, coaches, etc..., praise and compliment them for everything they do including mediocre or average work. For example, a child who gets 7 out of 10 on a spelling test is told that they did a "great job" or a kid who makes 5 mistakes during a 3 minute piano recital is told "well done".
Now, I agree with this idea in theory. We shouldn't praise our children when they only do so-so...we are teaching them that so-so is good enough and that they don't need to strive to do any better. We are teaching them to be mediocre adults. Would I scold my child for producing average work? Of course not. I might, however, say something like, "that's not bad, but I know you and what you are capable of, and I know you can do better."
Where I have an issue with this concept is: you have to know the child in question before you decide what mediocre really is. The standard that you hold your child up to should be the child himself, based on his own strengths and talents, weaknesses and limitations.
I have two examples from my own boys.
First, as you all know by now, my oldest son, John has a genetic disorder called Kabuki Syndrome (KS). John has mild to moderate cognitive delays and has difficulty staying focused on a single topic. John learns things slower and differently than typical kids his age and he really struggles with taking tests.
Every year in California, kids in second grade and higher take CST (California Standards Tests). The child's score is categorized into 5 categories: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced. Schools strive to get all children into the proficient and advanced categories. Well, John took the CST last May. He had a few modifications to the test taking environment but he took the same test everybody else did in language arts. A few weeks ago we got his scores. By just one point he made it into the proficient category!!! Did I scream and shout and tell him how proud I am? You bet I did! Did I tell him he's amazing and smart and that he did a fantastic job on his test? You 'betcha! Because John's barely proficient is another child's perfect score! John had to work and struggle and put in extra hours and be drilled on test taking strategies. He put in so much effort for every single one of those points and he deserved every bit of praise and compliments I could give him for that proficient score.
Now, just so you don't think this only pertains to special needs kids. Let me give you another example with my typical son, Robert. Robert plays soccer. He's not great but he enjoys the sport. During practice, the coaches work Robert pretty hard and give him a lot of extra time and attention because his skills are not quite as strong as some of the other players. At home, Robert and I will practice and kick the ball around. He also helps out at his brother's VIP soccer practice. I know how much time and effort Robert puts into soccer but he's just not a natural. At Robert's last soccer game, during the last 2 minutes of the game, the score was tied 3 to 3. Our goalie kicks the ball out into the field and it lands right at Robert's feet. My heart stops. Then, I watch as Robert turns with the ball, dribbles a bit up field, makes it around a defender and passes it perfectly to one of the other forwards who powers it into the goal! They won the game 4 to 3! Robert didn't score the winning goal but his footwork and pass allowed one of the stronger players to make the goal. I know, and his coaches know, how much effort Robert has put into those basic skills of stopping the ball, dribbling and passing. To someone else that might not have seemed like much...but to Robert... it was huge! Those few seconds were the culmination of years of practice and I (and his coaches) made sure he knew what a fantastic job he did during the game and that his fancy footwork and pass lead directly to the goal that won the game. We praised him profusely for what others might consider average soccer skills.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: it is definitely possible to lull our kids into thinking that average is ok when we praise them for passable work and mediocre performance. When we tell them that they are doing "great" when the are really just doing "alright" then they don't feel the desire to strive for anything higher. However, when our kids put in the time and the effort and do their best and try with all their might and they are still just proficient or average, I think they deserve all the love and praise we can give them. They need to know that doing their best may not make them the best at something but that the effort they put in is noticeable and praiseworthy.
So, that's what's been on my mind...