Parenting Without Praise? Not Me

What is it about us that we just can’t leave a good idea alone? Why do we have to dissect things ad nauseam, over-thinking to the point where ideas end up sounding just plain silly?

Years ago, I was trained as a Roots of Empathy instructor. Great program, great training. The hardest part of that training was consciously adjusting my responses to students from, ‘good idea’,  or ‘nice’ to a less judgemental, ‘thank you’.

Oh how I struggled. The logic was that if we said, ‘good idea’ to one student and not another, that other student might think their idea was not a good one. It made sense, so I adapted my responses. It wasn’t easy, but less judgemental sounded good.

Fast forward to today. As I was scrolling through my Bloglovin’ feed I came across this: The Difference Between Praise and Feedback by Anya Kamenetz.

Read an excerpt for yourself…

So is there any way to channel and communicate your sincere feelings to your kids without doing lasting harm? (asks the author)

I ask Dweck about the “sugarcoated control” idea, she says, “I basically agree that we overpraise.” Her intention in talking about process praise is to redirect this impulse more constructively. Instead of mindlessly kvelling over every fingerpainting or math test — or even just telling kids to “try hard!” — her recommendation is to get more involved with what a kid is doing. “Appreciate it. Ask questions. If we see that a child is using interesting strategies we can ask about them. Talk to them about their thought processes, how they can learn from mistakes.” Encourage your child to actively seek both positive and negative feedback in order to grow and improve.

Deci says something similar. In addition to assuring children of your continuous love and regard, “You want to understand what your child is thinking and feeling, to be respectful toward them. Asking questions is a far better idea than giving praise”—or criticism for that matter.  The idea is to support the development of a child’s autonomy by taking his perspective.

If you’re on the sidelines at a soccer game, it’s easy to pull out some pre-scripted phrase like “I love to watch you play!” or “You’re a natural!” It’s harder to watch your kid so you can tell her, “When you made that pass in the second quarter, I could see that you’ve been practicing your footwork a lot,” or to take the time to ask, “What was your favorite part of the game?” and really listen to the answer.

In theory, this all sounds grand. I do understand their points. I’ve even read the research. I don’t completely disagree. However, I can picture it now:

Grandson Luka is on the soccer field, he takes a pass, dribbles up the field, sends a blistering shot past the goalie…

and I say,

“Luka…when you scored that goal just before the end of the game, I could see that you’ve really been practicing your shooting.”


I’m going to be screaming with the rest of the parents/grandparents on the side line.

“Great goal? Good shot! Way to go! Awesome!”.

And I shall do so with gusto.

Parenting is not an exact science. These rules, the script, the list of ways that even the most well-intentioned parents can harm their children is getting ridiculous. We need to allow joy, delight, gratitude, authenticity, and genuineness back into the tool box.

Of course, there are times we need balance. There are also times that call for unbridled, championing! I dread the thought that my children, who are all parents, have to second guess their responses continually.

My conclusion.

I will continue to praise my kids authentically. Yes, I’ve already gushed over finger-painting.

Luka Fingerpainting

Luka’s first time finger-painting

When they do something good or even grand, I will tell them.  I will not hide my pride nor be stingy with my gratitude. I will also process the ins and outs, the ifs and buts about what they’ve done; probably until they plead for me to stop. I absolutely 100 percent care about my kids and their kids. I will not use a script, I will not be led by whether or not they develop a growth or fixed mindset. I will interact with them because I love them.

They are all different.  They all require unconditional positive regard, but it looks different to each of them.

It really comes down to knowing our kids. Knowing when to lead, to follow, to hang on, to let go. It comes down to trust and relationship. Trusting ourselves that as parents/grandparents we are moving forward and building strong relationships with our offspring and their offspring. That we are continually making connections!

So I’m doing it. I’m pushing the BS button. Enough with the rules. Enough with robot parenting. Let’s get back to love, joy, and delight.

When you’re going through the sleepless nights of infancy, the teen years, the early twenties, thirties…you want to be able to pull out those grand moments, those successes, those ‘atta girls’ , that masterpiece of finger-painting, to give you the fortitude to stay the course.

And I say with gusto, gratitude, and pride, “good job”!


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3 Responses to Parenting Without Praise? Not Me

  1. Cheryl Berto says:

    I understand what you are saying. it is a hard balance to figure out, and typically our best insights come to us after the fact. on the issue of valid or authentic praise, have a look at this talk from Brene Brown which I think nails some of your concerns.


  2. Every kid needs at least one person to believe in them. The more the better. You go, Grandma!


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