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Praise Is Not Indebted To Your Child – It’s Earned

Last week, my two-year-old son “graduated” from PreK 1 into PreK 2.

His daycare celebrated this milestone with a cap and gown ceremony. In order for our family to participate, his father and I had to pony up $40 for a cap and gown and take a half day from work so we could watch him walk across a makeshift stage as he stubbornly kept taking off is $10 cap. 

Don’t get me wrong – it was freaking ADORABLE. I have no problem spending money on my kid and any chance I get to spend time with him during these critical developmental years is always welcomed. 

But is it really necessary to celebrate the fact that my kid went from being 24 months to 25 months? Is that really something that warrants this huge production? 

My father always told us that pride was something you earned; it was not something was bestowed on you for merely being human. 

The misunderstanding that people should be proud of you for simply existing is, fundamentally, what is wrong with our youth. Parents are treating every little thing that their kids do as reasons to celebrate, but often these “actions” aren’t actions at all. They are either the result of dumb luck or natural progression, neither of which warrant any effort or skill on behalf of the child. It’s under this same philosophical guise that kids get participation trophies or money for completing chores.

To continually tell our children we are proud of them for doing things that they should be doing anyway is not only insane, but potentially detrimental to how they handle rejection and self-awareness later on in life. It could be the difference between your child having grit and a strong work ethic or having the gross misconception that life owes them something. 

Actions warrant pride. Accomplishments warrant pride. Growing up does not.

I will never tell my child I’m proud of him for sharing. I’ll never tell him I’m proud of him for cleaning his room or being respectful to his elders or behaving well in a restaurant or finishing his homework. None of these things necessitate praise or a pat on the back. Sorry, little man, I’m not going to feel a burst of admiration when you carry out the menial task of brushing your teeth. Sorry, it’s just not going to happen. 

What I WILL do is tell him that I’m proud of him if he works his butt off to get into a good school. I’ll tell him I’m proud of him for making that winning goal in soccer or for volunteering or for learning how to play an instrument. I will reward him when he consciously strives to do things that make him a better person. 

Sometimes this concept runs into a grey area and I understand that this parenting technique isn’t always cut and dry. That’s why I try to approach child rearing as if I were running a business. My son’s father and I are the bosses and my child is our employee. As investors in a company, we want to see our brand excel and be successful. Thus, it is our job to provide our employee with the skill sets that will make him an honest, thriving, hard-working member of the company. 

In a job setting, it is assumed that, as an employee, you know how to execute everyday tasks sufficiently. This is NOT something that would make a boss proud. Do your job. You don’t get accolades for that. 

However, if my employee was to actively improve our profit margins, go the extra yard to guarantee productivity, and move up the corporate latter through hard work – you bet your butt I’ll be praising him. I will feel pride in his accomplishments. I will honor his perseverance through verbal reinforcement and a raise or a bigger office. 

Of course, this analogy makes it seem like I’m running a sweatshop out of our garage (which is certainly not the visual I’m trying to invoke). I’m merely trying to create an analogy of how I personally feel parenting should be approached. 

As my 25-month-old walked across the stage last week, collecting his construction- paper, crayon-inscribed diploma, I took pictures and clapped and smiled along with all of the other parents that had gathered to watch their kids “graduate.” Did I think it was adorable? Yes. Was I proud? No. He’s two. He literally did nothing to get that diploma except not get kicked out of daycare for biting his classmates. He managed to not eat his crayons or steal his peer’s juice boxes (and I’m not even sure if that’s true). Will I be proud, years from now, if he graduates college with straight A’s and a bachelors? Hell yes. Because he went beyond merely the basic expectation of growing up. He realized that in order for his parents, his teachers, or his boss to be proud of him, he had to actually put in the work to achieve it. 

That, my friends, is the difference. And, as a parent, making sure your actions reinforce this philosophy will probably be what gives your child the drive to do great things later on in life.

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About Mcclain W.

6 comments

  1. it works both ways mom

  2. Right on. We didn’t raise our kids with that false “graduation” nonsense. They had to achieve, and indeed they did:
    One Harvard, 2 Brown, 1 Wash. U. in St. Louis, and all successful

  3. The concept is to be proud to be their parent. No matter if it’s their first step or their first poop. Some don’t have the ability to spend $40 to say I’m proud to be your parent.

  4. I have been saying this for years. My daughter is grown, was commandant of her marine corps Jr. ROTC in high school, has served in the marine corps and now has a very productive life and career. She had all that nonsense growing up with school and sports but we instilled in her that it was nonsense and that you have to really earn the praise and respect. This is one of the reasons our children in this country are so far behind scholastically and are not turning out to be productive citizens by and large. They think the world owes them and that’s just not the case. If parents don’t wake up and quit making our children feel like they are owed something just for being born our whole future in this country is in jeapordy. Remember that these underacheivers are our future and it is getting to look bleaker and bleaker.

  5. Every time I hear the phrase ‘that is what is wrong with our youth’ I have to laugh. As if our generation was any better. We are the generation that openly beat our wives and kids, that refused to serve minorities, that made fun of the disabled, that hungered for war, treated women like servants, gays as criminals. If sugar coating our kids as opposed to making their lives miserable and turning them into resentful, violent bigots works, then count me in!! Maybe at some point we need to realize that running the fastest, jumping the highest or scoring the winning touchdown in a football game is not as important an achievement as the kid who feeds the homeless, takes care of his family and makes the world a better place.

  6. Excellent article!

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