I saw a teen girl I know at my daughter's dance team rehearsal last night, and was marveling at how well she dances. Not only do I think this young lady is talented, but I also think she's very sweet. I got to know her originally not through dance, but through our church. I have had the privilege of working with this amazing girl in a few different children's ministries, and she was an invaluable helper with the squirrely (and that's putting it mildly) 1st graders I worked with last summer for VBS. In short, I think this girl is incredible.
After the last day of VBS, her mother approached me, and I sang her daughter's praises, telling her mom how sweet I thought she was, how mature and helpful she was, and that I was going to beg and plead her to work with us again next year.
Her mother's reply surprised me a little. She said, "Yes, she is a very special girl," and hugged her daughter, who got a big smile on her face.
For some reason, that has just stuck with me. The sincerity in her mother's words and actions, and the love and admiration she had for her daughter just oozed out of her. It was clear she took no credit for the wonderful young lady her daughter is, but she truly appreciated and admired the person she is.
I've noticed that a lot of people show their children they love them, and tell them how wonderful they think they are, but it struck me that very few parents show admiration for their children. And even fewer do it in front of others.
I think the reason for this is because parents - well, more accurately, people in general - don't want to come off as braggarts. Occasionally, we parents have those moments of pride that just boils over, and we have to tell everyone who will listen just what our children have accomplished. But that's not the same thing.
There's this concept - especially in Christianity - of "talking up" your spouse to others, and never to put them down or shame them in front of others; to paint them in the best light possible. But it seems to me, we don't do that enough with our kids. And I have absolutely no idea why we apparently seem to think that "talking up" our spouses is good, but "talking up" our kids is wrong and makes us look self-centered.
It was evident to me, through this mother's words, her daughter's reaction, and my own perceptions, that this young lady is thriving because her mother isn't ashamed to "talk up" her child to other people. She knows her mother is proud of who she is, because her mother isn't afraid to tell other people just how marvelous she knows her daughter is.
In parenting, I believe the key is consistent, positive feedback. I don't believe we should overinflate our children, but we do need to regularly praise them. But the sad thing I am realizing, is that we're not afraid to praise our children for what they do, but seem to be largely deficient in praising our children for who they are - especially to other people.
Maybe there is societal shame in "talking up" the things our kids accomplish, because we don't want the label of self-centered braggart. But I see nothing wrong with praising them for the things we can take no credit for - who they were born as, and will always be deep in the core make-up of who they are; for what makes them special and sets them apart from others, with their own, unique set of qualities to use to better this world. For what makes them, them.
And I believe when we do so - publicly praise our children for who they are - it makes our children confident and proud of who they are, and further motivates them to be a kind, thoughtful, loving, caring, motivated, and productive member of society. I believe it builds up their self esteem without puffing them up and making them think they're better than others, because its not about what they do, and how they can "top" others. I believe it sets our children out to attain their full potential. Not because of who we are and what we've done as parents, or our expectations for them. Nor the things they can externally achieve. But because it sends them the clear message that their only real goal is to blossom into someone who is confident in who they are, and help them realize for themselves what only they can give to make this world a better place.