A frenzy of boys scrambling for the ball moved steadily towards him. They were almost on top of him and I saw his gaze snap back to the game just in time to watch the ball rush by him as he stood motionless. A few seconds after the ball had glided by, he lumbered after it, but gave up as it was kicked swiftly into the goal by the opposite team.
My husband and I sighed and shook our heads in wonder.
This was supposed to be fun for him. But so far, he seemed out-of-place and awkward on the field. It didn’t help that all of his teammates went to the same school and already knew each other or that he was not as agile or fast as the other boys on his team.
We gathered up our chairs as each team member shook hands and my mom heart was hurting because I knew he must realize how poorly he played.
But he bounced happily up to us and proclaimed that their team was once again undefeated. True, the team hadn’t lost a game yet but that was mostly due to a few elite players that had played soccer for years.
I realized that he had no idea he was the worst player on the team.
He bragged on about their victory and we were both left a little confused with how to proceed. Do we say, “Yes son, you did great!” when in reality, he was barely in the game? Do we say, ” Maybe soccer is not your game,” or “You need to pay more attention next time or try harder,” or do we smile and nod as he goes on about how great they are?
After all, it is third grade community soccer, it’s supposed to be about fun and sportsmanship, right?
Ever wondered how those people end up on American Idol auditions singing so terribly off-key and being utterly shocked and hurt when they are told singing professionally is not their thing? Maybe their parents just smiled and nodded. Maybe they flattered them so as not to crush their dreams.
After all, isn’t it our job to build up their self-esteem? I would argue that flattery has an opposite effect.
1.) Flattery undermines ambition. When we tell our kids that they are naturally great at things, we are telling them that they don’t have to work hard to be good at it. They already are. We are actually minimizing the chance that they will ever be good at that thing because hard work and practice is the only way to truly get better.
2.) False praise diminishes trust. Eventually, the kids on the team are going to let him know that he’s not the best player and probably not in the kindest way. The coach will tell him he doesn’t have what it takes to make the team. The judge will say, “Your singing is rubbish,” and they will realize you weren’t telling them the truth all along.
3.) False praise doesn’t leave room for constructive criticism. We should speak into our children’s lives to help foster growth in all areas and when we offer flattery, we close the door to impart wisdom and direction. Criticism should always be motivated by the heart intent of building them up for their own good. We should never criticize out of our pride or to live vicariously through our children’s accomplishments.
4.) False praise breeds arrogance not confidence. Telling your child they are good at everything they do or try imparts the feeling that they can never fail or lose. If you always let your child win when you’re playing games it will be extra tough when they play someone who is not their mommy and lose. Learning to handle losing without letting it rock your self-image is as important to confidence as winning, if not more so.
Remembrance of negative things far surpass any complements we receive in our childhood so children need to be firmly rooted in lavish, abundant praise and acknowledgement of their worth and value as individuals regardless of their abilities.
This kind of praise can never be overdone. I believe we are all reflections of God’s image and we should accept our worth through Him. Likewise, any talents or abilities we do have are simply gifts He’s given us for His glory and we should nurture and acknowledge them, especially when we see them in our children.
What do you think about these issues? Do you always let your kids win? Do you think there’s a place when flattery is necessary? Do you feel it’s best to let kids discover their abilities on their own or do you encourage specific ones? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.