Children naturally want to be good. They want to be valued; they want to belong; they want to be appreciated; they want to be loved. Don’t we all? Everyone needs encouragement at times.

There is nothing more refreshing, more validating, more empowering, and more motivating than sincere, heart-felt praise.
That’s it! All other rewards feel like bribes or cheap tricks in comparison to genuine praise (a reward all it’s own, especially when it’s accompanied with a big hug and smile.)

At times, life gets going so fast that with each of us as mortals, mistakes are made, people are discouraged or take offense, feelings are hurt, and relationships are damaged. Before long, we see nothing but mistakes and what comes out of our mouths is negative and destructive: complaining, murmuring, nagging, whining, begging, criticizing and judgement. Everybody’s on this downward cycle at mock speed and we’re not sure how we got there, nor how to stop and reverse the cycle. All we know is that negative seems to be multiplying.

Luckily, a dear friend taught me to make a conscious choice to look for the good. In a moment of her frustration, Mandy knelt down beside her baby and began stating things she was grateful for: her healthy baby (not focusing on the fact he was crying;) the home they lived in, that it gave them warm shelter; the soft carpet; the sunny day; anything she could think of. It changed her from the inside out. She felt lighter and was happier; she had been transformed.

She also taught me to try and “catch” my children doing good. So I tried. I looked for things they were doing that were good and thanked them. Guess what? It worked! The good started multiplying. It validated and increased their natural desire to be good.  Suddenly, the cycle had reversed and was spiraling in a positive direction. 

Caution! There’s a difference between praise and flattery.

Praise is acknowledgment of hard work and good choices. Praise is an unconditional gift from one person to another. Praise is genuine, sincere, and heartfelt with no further or future expectations. Praise is a motivator; it encourages the individual to continue making right choices and choosing right behavior.

Flattery is something quite different. Flattery is selfish and often, disguised as a motivator, is used as a manipulator. Flattery tries to make someone feel good in hopes that they will do something for us, somehow, sometime, somewhere. Flattery may not be easy to see at first, but once seen, it is “see through.” It is hollow, shallow, and can actually destroy any existing trust between the parties involved.

Children do not need to be flattered or coerced into being good. They are naturally, innately good. They are divine. If a little child, even a baby, receives a toy, some candy, or any other treat, he or she naturally reaches out to share.

Not until they learn from others do they realize they can keep it for themselves. They learn from others how to say, “No, mine!” They are taught to be self-centered, unkind, and selfish. That example comes from the rest of us mortals who have “more experience” on this earth.

Our examples to each other tend to reinforce animal-like behavior or Christ-like characteristics. In all of this, we choose! We choose the example we set; we choose our behavior, our reactions, and our expressions. We choose how we are going to parent.

Imagine the progress we could make if, while we are teaching, we look for reasons to praise instead of criticize; acknowledge the effort, instead of judge the behavior; correct with love, instead of criticize with sarcasm; discipline through the Spirit, instead of punish through frustration. When I keep these things in mind, praise comes easier and parenting becomes a very joyful experience.

A valuable key to parenting that helped me was to remember that there is a first time for everything. This is the first time for my children to be children. This was my first shot at being a parent. Of course mistakes are going to be made. If I had really understood this, maybe I would have been more patient with myself and with my children.

Another key I tried to remember was that my children were not trying to upset me. They may have needed defined limits and boundaries, or specific direction. Maybe the instructions needed to be more clear for them to understand what was truly expected. As the adult, my responsibility is to make sure that what is expected from the child:
      1. is clearly defined
      2. is in the child’s best interest, and
      3. is possible for the child to achieve

Wouldn’t it be easier for the child to achieve or accomplish it if child actually believed it possible to achieve?

If we understand these principles as we begin parenting, maybe we could save ourselves a lot of grief down the road. Think of the value of looking for things to praise and be grateful for. Isn’t it more productive to spend our time in praise and thanksgiving, than in criticizing and complaining?

I’ve seen how genuine, sincere praise can change the environment from a negative one to a positive one. I witnessed the power of praise. When I praised my family, our home felt like heaven.