|In recent years, some writers have recommended that
parents abstain from praise as well as criticism. They see praise
as a form of parental manipulation of the child's behavior - more
subtle than blame and criticism, but harmful nonetheless. I have
certainly seen parents use praise in this way. But I have also
seen it take place in a way that I consider normal and healthy.
After much thought, I've come to believe that avoidance of praise in
toto is "throwing the baby out with the bathwater".
While we should of course refrain from harmful, artificial kinds
of praise, there does exist a more genuine variety that springs
from the heart in a joyful way, and that gives our children what
they most need: our genuine loving support.
In discussions like this, it is essential to define one's
terms. By "artificial praise", I mean words that are
used deliberately with the intention of reinforcing a specific
behavior, toward a goal that is the parents', and not necessarily
- "Tell Grandma thank-you. Good girl!"
- "Be a good boy and give your sister the toy... good for
By "genuine praise" I mean loving words that arise
spontaneously and warmly from the parent's heart, without any
thought of manipulation of the child's behavior.
- "Wow! What a beautiful card you made for me! Thank
- "Oh, you swept the floor! What a nice surprise!"
The key difference between these two kinds of praise is our
intention. Is it our intention to control the child's future
behavior by the careful giving and withholding of our approval, or
are we simply expressing genuine delight at the present moment?
Obviously, if we mete out approval to our children when they are
"good", and withhold it when they are "bad",
we are taking serious liberties with our power over them. We are
also giving the same harmful message that all punishment gives:
the child is loved conditionally. It is every parent's
responsibility to avoid this kind of manipulation. But in trying
to avoid it, if we are then afraid to voice any positive
statements, and withhold our true selves, we are missing the
chance to have a genuine relationship with our child. In so doing,
we are no longer fully present to the child, and are giving up
some of the most joyous moments in any relationship: the
spontaneous words and gestures that celebrate the love and joy
The key is to trust ourselves as well as our children, and to
identify and express what is in our heart. Withholding genuine
positive feelings blocks an essential part of who we are. To
celebrate and support our child fully, we need to express the love
and joy we feel. The more direct and genuine we can be with our
child in a positive way, the more likely it is that this message
will be the most authentic and helpful response. Withholding
praise, when praise is a simple and genuine desire, goes against
all that our heart knows to be true and right.
Children learn by our example which feelings are appropriate to
share with others. Do we really want them to learn to withhold
their most joyous feelings? Whether we give glib, manipulative
praise we don't really feel, or withhold genuine feelings of
delight or gratitude, we are giving a false picture of ourselves
and teaching falsehood by example. We should trust our heart to
know what is genuine and what is not. Empathic parenting should be
simple. We make it unnecessarily complicated when we overanalyze.
While a child could get addicted to glib, manipulative
statements of praise the parent isn't truly feeling, the wish for
honest, genuine praise from those we love is a natural desire. It
is human nature to want to please those we love and to know that
we have pleased them. If we can follow our heart, we will
naturally give our child what they most need: our authentic self
and our genuine love and support.