We’ve been talking about how excessive praising produces “glory monsters.” If that’s true, how do we avoid raising our children to crave praise?
We have to start with ourselves. Our own craving must be addressed before we can help our children.
How Praising Shapes Our Kids
Praise shapes us, both parent and child. It whets our appetite. The sweet taste of a compliment causes us to smack our lips and open our mouths for more.
Have you ever fed on a compliment? You post a photo of something you’ve made on Pinterest or Facebook and your feed explodes with likes and comments. Then someone you highly respect praises your work with words that amaze you. Do you read it once and move on? No, you read and reread it. You remember it later and can’t recall the exact words, so you go back and check again, committing it to memory. You memorize it so you can meditate on it. Hmmmm.
Praise shapes our future efforts, too. Chances are we will want to duplicate our success. We start to bend our efforts in that direction. Instead of simply trying to produce our best work, for the sake of God and our neighbor, we turn our work into a divining rod, seeking the pay dirt of praise.
We do that with our biggest life project, too, raising our children.
How Praising Tests Us
Praise also tests us, both parent and child. It exposes the parent’s hopes. It reveals the child’s desire to please. Too much of it puts the child on a pedestal. When she inevitably topples off, it hurts both parent and child.
The Bible instructs us in dealing with this volatile and addictive substance. “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise” announces Proverbs 27:21. Not just man, but women and children too.
But who is conducting this test? The Lord himself, according to Proverbs 17:3, which gives a different slant on the metaphor.
“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.”
What does this divine test reveal?
- Praise tests the one who gives it: It reveals what I see, what I value, what I honor. My own insecurities surface through the praise I offer.
- Praise tests the one who receives it: It reveals what my children hunger for–my attention. To be seen and known and delighted in. To please the people that are important to them. That’s why they love our praise when it rings true.
Flattery inflates our children, turning them into glory monsters who incessantly crave more, but true praise satisfies them because it echoes the voice of God.
Echoing the Voice of God
As parents we want to praise our children meaningfully. As Christian parents, we want our children to hear and respond to the voice of God. Isn’t that why we read the Scriptures to them and take them to church? True praise gives us an opportunity to do both. By praising them meaningfully, the way God does, we can also help them hear His voice. He is the God who sees them, who pays attention to them. He is the God who knows them. And he is the God who delights in them in Christ.
Our praise can mirror those great truths by saying:
- I see you. The crowded pick-up from VBS might not be the best time, but once you’re home, take the time to sit and give your full attention to their crafts and stories. Like us before the Lord, they love being seen.
- I know you. Not every child is a Picasso, but your child has been given gifts by God. Affirming those gifts shows that you know them and are eager to see them continue to grow.
- I delight in you. Nothing communicates love to your child like taking the time to delight, not just in their accomplishment, but in them. It is a reflection of God’s own pleasure.
My mother’s voice still rings in my ears. Her opinion still matters to me. So does your voice in the life of your children. How can you and I tell when our praise has hit the sweet spot? When it has filled up, rather than puffed up our children?
When they forget about themselves and run off to play.