March 9

Lessons about Praise from a Child

March 9, 2011

Personal Growth

Evaluation—Real Praise from a Child

Today two of my grandchildren will return home to their parents after being with us for ten days. During that time Brad—who is nine—worked with me on several occasions out in the yard. We shoveled gravel, hauled dirt, spread grass seed and fertilizer, and more. 

I was reminded that children really do want to work. It often appears that they don't primarily because we adults don't make work a rewarding experience. All day Brad and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we talked and joked and worked.

At the end of one day of labor, I sighed in satisfaction at what we had done and said, "Nice work."

Brad responded, "You too."

Inwardly I smiled as big as the Grand Canyon, because I realized that Brad understood my comment perfectly. I was not superficially praising him. I was not trying to make him feel good about himself. I wasn't talking down to him. He knew that I was just voicing an assessment of what we had done and noting that he'd made a significant contribution to that effort.

Praise as a Form of Imitation Love

When praise is a form of Imitation Love, it's an appraisal of the other person—of their value—and often a manipulation intended to encourage repetition of a particular behavior.

People tend to become attached to that kind of praise. They need more. Their sense of worth inflates—in a way that is rarely healthy—and they smile in false humility, while wriggling like scratched puppies at the adulation.

But Brad did none of that. He simply nodded in acknowledgement of what I'd said, and in a moment of maturity that I didn't begin to approach until I was forty years older than he is, he recognized that I had made a contribution too.

In fact, he said, "That really was a lot of work. Imagine how long it would have taken me if you hadn't helped." That put me on the floor laughing—but not outwardly, because I didn't want to make him self-conscious about his comment.

The Kind of Praise We Need

We do not need praise. We need to be loved and taught. Sometimes we need outside evaluation of our efforts, not as traditional praise but as information we can use to guide future efforts.

Once again, I was schooled by a child, a lesson that could benefit us all.

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