|COMPLIMENT GIRLS ON THEIR CHARACTER, NOT THEIR BODIES|
Image found on Pinterest pinned by Julia, linking to tumblinfeminist, but I couldn't find original source
Words are important. Words have lasting effect.
And so well-chosen words, or ill-used words, can make a big difference in the lives of children.
Even before getting pregnant with Josiah, my husband and I have thought about and discussed our beliefs and ideas and goals for parenting. And one important aspect of parenting that we have thought a lot about is how we will dole out praise to our kids.
The above infographic demonstrates one important example of how we should be careful about praising children. Girls especially, but boys as well, are so often praised excessively, or exclusively, for their physical appearance. And I fully agree that it is a very bad idea to communicate to our children that their value and worth lies in how they look.
(That being said, I don't think we have to withhold all compliments towards children of their appearance. Just that such praise should be kept in proper proportion and perspective.)
But worrying about making my daughter (or my son) become obsessed with appearances is not my main concern, although it is an important corollary.
The main job of a parent (besides providing for basic bodily needs and safety) is to lovingly form the character of her child.*
And so we should compliment our children with intentionality - with the intention of helping to form good character within them through the positive reinforcement of our praises.
My parents were wonderful parents, so I don't want my next following comment to sound like I am being harshly critical of them or blaming them...but I think an illustration from my own life informs why I think this is such an important thing to be intentional about with our kids.
My parents were generous with their praises towards me, especially my father. But the compliments which I remember were nearly all about things which came rather naturally to me. Primarily, my good performance in school, and then to a lesser extent, my good behavior. Doing well in school came naturally to me, so I never had to work all that hard to get good grades. And as for good behavior - well being a cautious and sensitive person by nature, the fear of getting in trouble or getting hurt was usually motivation enough, rather than any actual virtue.
I am not saying it was bad for my father to praise me for being smart or obedient. But by nearly exclusively praising me for things I was naturally good at, I was not therefore pushed or encouraged to do things that I was NOT good at in order to earn praise. By being praised for natural traits, I grew to have an over-inflated sense of pride about my natural abilities.
I think that is perhaps at least part of the reason that as an adult, my biggest struggles and sin issues in life have to do with work ethic and self-discipline. I have a very difficult time pushing myself to do things which challenge me or which require endurance and will.
As a result, it makes me hyper-aware that I should make an effort to praise my kids for character traits that they have to work to achieve, not just those that come naturally.
I want to make sure I praise them for hard work and effort, not just results.
I need to praise them for generosity, and thinking of others first.
I need to praise them for obedience when it is hard, not just when their will coincides with my will.
I need to praise them for being courteous and polite, especially with people who are difficult to love.
But I also need to praise them for who they are, for what does come naturally, for the good gifts that God put in them. Because if I only ever praise them for their efforts, they could come away with the equally damaging idea that their value is based only in what they do, what they contribute. They could come away with the idea that they have to earn love by working for it, and a lack of ability to contribute or work hard equates to a lack of worth.
As with just about everything in life, BALANCE is key here. The balance between knowing they are loved and worthy of love no matter what, that God made something good when He made them, but also that a good life comes from work harding to be better and to do that which does not come easily.
(*I just wanted to point out that I also believe that temperaments are to a large extent inborn, and that there is a huge limit on the influence that even parents can have on their children. Where nature stops and nurture starts is a huge mystery, but I am well aware that who a person turns out to be is not completely the result of parenting, by any means.)