Family Life


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Raising Mary: Do we overpraise our children?

Praise – the act of expressing
approval or admiration – is a
good thing for raising children,
isn’t it? I started off six years ago
praising a lot. “Good job“ this,
“good job” that! One day, though,
something I had just said,
reflexively, made me freeze.

Two-year-old Mary had been
running around, being silly
and gleeful. “Good job running,
Mary!” Say what? As soon as
it came out of my mouth, the
idiocy of the exclamation shot
through the layers of my brain.
Good running? Good freaking

Running is what able-bodied
two-year-olds do. It doesn’t
require exertion or skill; it comes
naturally, like breathing. Mary
was being braised in praise!

I realized if I kept on like this,
she was going to expect cheers for
waking up in the morning.
Praise is a useful parenting
tool, for when a kid is learning
a new skill.

Praise your toddler
who’s toilet learning and has just
gone in the potty for the first time.
But praise your six-year-old for
the same? Ridiculous.

Mary’s in grade one and
learning to read. At first, she
was a little ambivalent about it.
I insisted that she read with me
every evening after school, and
she gradually improved. When
her teacher sent home a note that
she had jumped a few reading
levels, I turned on music and
started dancing. She was shocked
at my over-the-top whooping it
up, but she giggled and seems to
feel proud of herself the more her
reading improves.

I’m not great at the “praise
good behaviour and ignore
the bad” philosophy, though. I
haven’t once successfully ignored
it when one of the kids pesters
me incessantly when I’m on the
phone. Some stuff you’ve just got
to discipline so it doesn’t go on.

There’s a third kind of praise I
use a lot. When we’re snuggling
at bedtime, I often say something
like “I’m so glad you’re my little
girls.” It lets them know that
despite whatever happened
during the day, good or bad, I am
happy to have them. My fouryear-
old, Adelaide, throws her
arms around my neck and says,
“I’m so glad you’re my Mommy.”
I’m soaking up that praise while
it lasts!

Tracy Cooper is a stay-athome
mother of Mary, 6,
and Adelaide, 3.

Originally published in ParentsCanada, July 2012

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