Praise vs Pressure: The Way You Praise Your Kids Might Actually be Hurting Them

I don’t think it would come as a surprise to any parent that calling your child “stupid”, or some other negative label, is going to have negative effects on their behavior, self-esteem, and even personality development. But it might surprise you that some seemingly positive labels can, too!

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Growing up, I was a pretty good kid: I’ve always been a rule-follower (to a fault); I was very quiet and easy to please. It just wasn’t in my nature to talk back or get into trouble (this is less true for a few of my teenage years, sorry mom). I have four siblings with four personalities very different from my own, who tended to make more waves than I did. Not that they weren’t good kids, just more like the typical kid than I was. Because I got into less trouble than my sisters and brother, they started calling me “the good one”, “perfect”, or “the smart one”. This kind of labeling doesn’t seem so bad, and honestly, I would take that kind of “name calling” over most anything else. However, labeling, even with positive labels, can have negative effects.

Lets start with the POSITIVE

Being called “perfect” for all those growing up years caused me to set a standard for myself. I felt that because they thought I was a certain way, that’s exactly what I needed to be. It caused me to push myself to be perfect, especially in school. I was a model student. I studied hard, I learned a lot, and I never got less than an A-. I just didn’t accept anything less than that of myself. All my hard work toward “perfection” academically got me a full-ride scholarship in college. In this instance, the label really paid off.

But here is the NEGATIVE

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even realized the negative effects of my label as “perfect”. I am afraid of failure. In fact, my fear of failing has kept me from doing so many things. If I was presented with an opportunity to take on something new, I tended to pass if I thought there was even a slight chance that I would fall short or “look stupid”. I felt like any kind of mistake would mean I was imperfect, and therefore, not good.

If I made a mistake in any way, I hid it from whomever I could. I never allowed myself to openly mess up. I didn’t feel like I could share my failures with anyone so I just bottled them all up. Talk about unhealthy. Now I feel like I’m so full of walls covering up my mistakes that a lot of me is closed off. Even now, as a 30-year-old mother of 4, it’s hard for me to admit my mistakes or when I’m wrong, or when I’ve failed. I’m working hard on it, and my kids help out a lot (they’re brutally honest, as little kids are, and love me even when I screw up). I don’t blame my siblings in any way. They were doing what siblings do. I don’t blame anyone. But I know I want to somehow do things differently with myself from here on out.

What we tend to do

My oldest child learns easily. She’s like a sponge for knowledge. She excels in school with very little effort. She’s heard me call her “smart” like 6 bazillion times. Last week, she came home from school completely devastated about her score on her math test. She got 88% and concluded that she wasn’t good at math and felt like a failure. 88%!! My heart dropped into my stomach and I realized that I’m repeating this cycle with my own child. All her life, when I would I give her praise it sounded a lot like this, “You are so smart!” “You are such an artist!” “You’re such a natural!” While these statements are all positive and any parent would feel good about saying these things to their child, it can actually be counterproductive. Telling a child they’re smart, talented, a natural, or even like in my case “perfect”, can add a lot of pressure to keep that label. Any kind of failure will just knock them over because suddenly they don’t fit under that label anymore.

What to do instead

After I got to this point in my thinking, I was like, “Okay so I’m messing my kid up. But what am I supposed to be saying to her instead??” So I Googled it, and what I found caused me to jump up and run into the other room where my hubster was, and wave my phone in his face saying “Look! My weirdness is an actual thing!” There’s a wise woman named Carol Dweck who has done much research on this very topic. After I read over her study, I felt vindicated! She described me in almost the same words I used to describe myself. So let me paraphrase what she said we should do instead…

Praise your child for trying and for their efforts: When your baby brings home an impressive report card, focus on their hard work instead of the fact that things come easily to them. Saying “I’m so proud of the hard work you put into school!” is better than “All A’s? Look how smart you are!”

When your child scores a goal in his soccer game, say, “Look at how all your hard practice has paid off!” instead of, “You are a natural at soccer!”

Praise them for the work they’ve done or for their behavior: Pointing out the specific work they’ve done well would sound like, “You did a great job with those spelling words!” or, “I can tell you did your best work on that art project!”

This whole thing is pretty new to me. It’s going to take some serious effort on my part to turn this whole “labeling” bus around. But I think it’s important to do if I want to help build-up my children in the right way. I also wanted to share my story to bring this issue to people’s attention. In some of my articles I give advice, and in some I ask for it. This article is both. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this. What are your experiences with this (positive or negative)? What is working for you? Help! (Please and thank you)

**The thoughts and opinions I have expressed are totally mine. Carol Dweck did not ask me to say any of this, nor does she endorse this blog in any way (but that would be awesome if she did).

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Never Forget: 9.11.2001

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On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was a 17-year-old girl, a high school senior already so uncertain and stressed about my future. Watching the tragedies of the morning unfold filled my heart with fear and sadness and anger until it broke. I dealt with those emotions in the only way I knew how: I wrote…this…

I Would Give You…9/11

I would give you my tears if I had any left to cry.

I would show you my hate, the rage you bottled up inside me

When you took my brothers and my sisters,

The ones I had never met.

I would let you taste the sting and the burn

Of my fear, my pain.

Even though I was shielded with the miles

I felt the rumble. I heard a nation cry.

I would break your heart, like you broke ours,

But yours is frozen.

 

I want you to hear our strength, our prayers, our songs.

I want to hold your remorse, and I want your guilt to be

Screamed into your ears, poured into your heart

To stay and sit like sand.

So heavy.

I would like to forgive your mistake, to look past your stony eyes

And say it’s all okay.

But it isn’t.

I want things to heal to how they were before you stirred us.

But we’re better now, because you showed us

We could rise above you

And keep soaring.

 

And in my reflecting on all of that I also wrote this morning, 13 years later…

My slow tears over the ham sandwiches I was making to pack in my children’s lunches caught their attention.

“Mom? Are you sad?” my daughter asked.

“Hmm? Oh, I was just remembering. Yes, I’m a little sad today.” I answered back, wiping my face.

Well, now I had their attention. I spent the few rushed minutes we had before school explaining the heart-wrenching attacks of 9/11 in the most kid-friendly-but-still-honest way possible. I wanted to use this precious opportunity to teach my children.

I focused first on those who lost their lives that day, and the importance of the memory. I talked about how each one of their families and friends had to keep pushing along everyday without their loved one, and how we need to be kind to everyone because we don’t know how hard each day might be for them.

I emphasized the heroes, the brave and unselfish men and women who chose to put the lives of strangers before their own because that is what is right. I taught them that everyday there are those same kinds of good men and women sacrificing to give us the freedoms we love, even some of our own family and friends are among those heroes. I told them that I look up to those people and want to be like them and that I hope my children will be heroes in their own ways, everyday.

As we drove to school I left my sweet, innocent kids with this: There is good in the world, in each of you. In your teachers and friends, in our neighbors and at church. Them men and women who lead our state and country have good in them, too. We need to spread the good to chase away the bad and the scary. That is our responsibility: to love everyone as much as our hearts possibly can, and do our best to be heroes in our own ways, every single day.

I will never forget.

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Easy Chili

chili

This is my go-to chili recipe. We have it every Halloween before the kids go out to Trick-or-Treat. But because it’s so good and so easy, my family is never surprised if we have it even on a hot summer day! It’s just too good to be seasonal!

Easy Chili

Ingredients:

2 cans (15 oz each) chili beans

1 can (15 oz) kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 lb gound beef

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup green pepper, chopped

1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

½ cup water

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp chili powder

2 tsp oregano

1 tsp sugar

cheddar and sour cream to garnish (optional)

Directions:

In a large pot, brown beef with onion and green pepper. Drain. Stir in remaining ingredients, except cheese and sour cream. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Top with cheddar and sour cream.

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Your Body After Baby

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So you’ve survived pregnancy, childbirth, and the crazy first months of a baby’s life. Congratulations, girl. You did it. Now let’s have a little talk about how you’re hating on your body right about now.

Turns out you’re NOT Heidi Klum. Maybe your boobs look like that old balloon you found behind your entertainment center: deflated, withered, depressed. Or maybe they look like socks with a few rocks in the bottom. Or maybe they went totally AWOL, abandoned post. Perhaps you have stretch marks that look like Freddy Kruger got a hold of you. If so, then it’s lucky for you that animal prints are pretty hot right now, because you’ve got a zebra-print bum. It might be that when you try to put on any non-yoga pant it’s like trying to stuff a sleeping bag back into it’s case- lumpy and bumpy and bulging in weird places. Or maybe you pee your pants every time you sneeze. I bet you’re wishing you would have done your kegels now! As for your downstairs, well…we don’t really have to go there. The point is that things are different.

Not having the fondest feelings for the body you see in the mirror is totally real, whether the changes are slight or if you’re seeing a stranger staring back at you. And it’s normal. You are NOT alone on this one. Most of the things you don’t love about yourself can be changed with time and hard work (or plastic surgery). I’m not going to give you tips on how to whip your bod back into shape (because I sat here and ate a mint brownie while I wrote this). Just ask yourself one question: If you could trade your baby in and get your old body back, would you? No. Never. Not in a bazillion years.

My arms, no matter how soft, are where my children find comfort from fear and sadness. My chest, no matter how flat or saggy, will catch their tears. My lap, no matter how wide, will be where we read together, where they learn. My child doesn’t care about any of those criticisms. He loves me because I am his mommy. Our strong, able, miraculous, God-given, BEAUTIFUL bodies bring life to the world. Our bodies are able to grow, house, nourish, and give life to another little human being! All of your motherly imperfections become okay when your baby becomes this beautiful little person with quirks and feelings and personality. Every mark, dimple, or scar on your body, left there from bringing your child into the world, will be worth it. Maybe, over time, you’ll look at them with a little bit of pride. Like a trophy. Pregnancy and childbirth are not easy feats, but your amazing body did that! Like a BOSS! Bring it in…cue the Wonder Woman theme song. We are MOMS. We make the world go round! Our bodies do what no man’s can do! **Slow clap** So let’s show our bodies some respect, and some LOVE! Mom jeans on 3! Just kidding….say NO to mom jeans.

**I originally wrote this post as a guest blogger over at Redbarnblog.com, You can read it there by clicking here.**

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Raising Young Kids: 5 Ways to Keep From Losing Your Mind

Being a parent of small children day in and day out is taxing on your mental health. Here are the first few tips from a long list of things to keep you from going totally crazy.

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1. Don’t expect them to happily do anything that you’re not happy to do.

You guys….I don’t enjoy cleaning. I would rather do almost anything else. I put it off as long as I can. If I don’t want to clean, chances are neither do my kids. If I EXPECT a little bit of resistance when I tell them to do their chores or homework, or eat their vegetables, or put on pants, then I won’t blow my lid when they complain about it. **NOTE: this is not to say you should not make them do things they don’t want to, or that you should tolerate bad behavior from them while doing these things. Just don’t expect them to go all Snow White and whistle while they work.

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Baby: How to Travel with One in Public & Live to Tell About It

Taking care of a new baby within the comfort of home can be…really something. Taking a baby into an actual public setting, where there are onlookers, can be completely traumatizing. At least it was for me. As a new mom, a lot of stress can reduce you to acting on only your most basic instincts. For example, that first outing with your baby might actually look a lot like one of those nature shows on the Discovery Channel, dramatically narrated by Alec Baldwin…

“Here we see a new mother and her young. Having already eaten through her stores of frozen casseroles and pop tarts, she is forced to go out in search of food. She emerges from her safe home, blinking in the harsh sunlight. It has been 6 weeks since she has seen the sun, 6 months if her baby was born during RSV season.”

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Loaded Mashed Cauliflower

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So about a month ago, my husband and I decided to do a 30 day clean eating challenge. We pretty much we’re able to eat fruit, vegetables and meat. During one of my desperate searches to find a recipe that would imitate some sort of comfort food, but was still healthy of course, I found a recipe for mashed cauliflower. Now I know what you’re thinking, CAULIFLOWER? I myself am not a big fan of cauliflower, but decided to give the recipe a try. If I wouldn’t have known better, I would have thought I was eating mashed potatoes.  Now that our clean eating challenge is over, I decided to jazz things up a little and make a “loaded” version. It was pretty much amazing and I’m sure will make an appearance at our house regularly.

Ingredients:

1 bag frozen cauliflower (fresh would also work)

3 tsp minced garlic

1/3 cup sour cream

1/4 cup milk

3-4 Tbsp real bacon bits

1/2 cup shredded medium cheddar cheese

2 Tbsp chopped green onion

1 tsp salt

 

Place cauliflower florets in pan and cover halfway with water. Steam until very tender. Drain excess liquid from pan. With a hand blender or countertop blender purée cauliflower until smooth. Add milk, garlic and sour cream and blend until desired consistency is reached. Stir in remaining ingredients. Garnish with extra cheese, bacon and onion if desired.

Serves 4

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