When Carol initially suggested the topic of how we spoil our kids for this month’s At Issue, I rebuffed. I don’t spoil my kids! The 4 and 5 year-olds make their own beds every morning, sort their dirty laundry every Friday afternoon (after all, if you want something clean you’d better make sure it winds up in the washing machine) and put away their neatly folded clothes on Saturday. They help to load and unload the dishwasher, put away groceries and collect the garbage from the washrooms. I have even resigned from making my 5 year-old’s daily snack for school.
So what could I possibly be doing that other people might perceive as spoiling?
But before I could answer that question, I had to ask what is spoiling anyway? Isn’t it like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? One person’s trash is another’s treasure? One person’s foot in the face is another’s restful slumber?
According to this website, to spoil means to do harm to the character, nature or attitude by over solicitude, overindulgence or excessive praise.
Uh-oh, excessive praise.
Does sounding the marching band and ticker tape parade for every successful use of the potty count as excessive praise? What about the high-fives and the string of “Good boy!” “Great job!” “ That’s awesome!” and “I am so proud of you!” that spill from my mouth several times a day?
If excessive praise counts as spoiling a child, I might as well pin a scarlet “S” to my chest and brand myself a spoiler.
There has been considerable attention paid to the pitfalls of excessive praise at my boys’ Adlerian preschool and at my local moms group. Experts warn that over praise can actually have the opposite effect on a child’s self-esteem and encourage children to be too results focused.
Jim Taylor, Ph.D. wrote a celebrated article for Psychology Today about the possible psychological dangers of over praising. In it he offers parents solid suggestions of ways to encourage our kids instead of praising them and by doing so he maintains our children will take more risks without worrying if they are doing a “good job”.
Initially some of the praise substitutes sounded scripted and unnatural but over time I find these words rolling off my tongue:
“I believed that you could do it!”
“It looks like you are having fun out there!”
“I like when you read me the stories,”
“Oh, I see you used your favourite colours.”
Let’s not forget that old habits die slowly and last week when my oldest son showed me his Degas inspired ballerina painting, I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Wow! That’s awesome! Good job, buddy! I am so proud of you!!!”
I am pretty sure that Alyson Schafer would have passed out on the spot.