All that empty praise has led to, well, nothing. Test scores haven't risen, and studies now show that kids who are given meaningless praise are actually afraid to try difficult things. Those kids are afraid that if they try something difficult and fail, they would ruin the image their teachers' had of them. Failure would mean that they are no longer as smart as their teachers had been telling them they were.
Researchers have discovered that kids who receive praise that is earned -- even if it meant trying something three or four times -- will try harder the next time they're faced with a problem. When the praise is based on their actual performance, it means something, and kids are less afraid of failing the next time.
God knew this long before these researchers figured it out. He gave us directives against lying and empty words. One of the first commands He gave the Israelites was "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). In other words, "Don't lie."
In Matthew 5:37, Jesus admonishes us to let our word stand by itself. He encourages us not to embellish our promises with oaths but to simply mean what we say, "All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
Our words mean something, especially when it comes to our kids. We need to avoid the trap of empty praise and instead use our words to encourage our kids to live a life that's pleasing to God. Constantly praising them for things over which they have no control (like appearance) or giving them praise they didn't earn makes our words meaningless when we praise them for something they did do well.
Try praising your kids in one of these ways:
- Praise them for character qualities. If you catch your child being kind to another child or patient when patience isn't his strong suit, praise your child for it.
- Be specific in your praise. Don't just praise your child for a job well-done, praise them for something specific that they did.
- Praise your child in a way that encourages them to try something difficult the next time. If your child has attempted a difficult task, praise them not for the task but for having the courage to try something hard.
- Only give praise if it has been earned. Don't give your child empty praise. Kids are smart. They know when they didn't earn the praise. Praise your kids often, but make sure your words are true and meaningful when you do.