Character Training
Praising Character not Achievement

Introducing intentional Character Training into our home has had a huge influence on our family. One area has been in our praising of our children. I try and define what I am praising them for in terms of the character that they have displayed.

At the end of their childhood I have this dream to be able to stand up and commend them for their character. I don’t want to go through a list of achievements I want to recognise in my children (young adults) their character. That will make me proud.

I need to start working towards this now. I need to recognise their character not their achievements today. Our society is driven by achievements. God’s kingdom is driven by character. It is hard to make the switch over in our thinking but so worth it. When we praise with drawing attention to the character we are building their hearts not just recognising their actions. This is significant as ultimately it is their hearts that will turn out consistent actions. This is Character Training.

Here are some guidelines to help focusing on Character Training:

Notice what children do -I have found this to be one of the biggest keys in parenting - we need to be constantly watching our children - even when we are out visiting with other people. This isn’t to “catch them” doing bad but rather to guide them and direct them into what is good. When you see them heading the wrong way you can encourage them to choose character. When you see them doing the right thing you can praise them for their choice. Either way, watching them, being aware of them as people, is a win-win situation.

Expect positive results - I really believe that in elevating the good in my children’s minds I am helping them build positive habits. If the last words I say to them are positive – “You need to be attentive” then they will remember “attentive”. Alternatively, if the last words I say to them are negative, “You are NOT listening” they will remember all that they are “not”.

Verbalise Praise - Often taking the time to stop and say something to my children gets caught up in the busy-ness of getting through my day yet the reality is it doesn’t take very long to say “I noticed how you did your chores this morning - you seemed very Determined to complete them on time. You did a good job. I certainly appreciate having the kitchen ready for me to cook dinner. Thank you.”

Schedule praise

- I use my afternoon cuppa as a little review of our day. As I reflect over our day I not only bring to mind situations that require praise but possibly recognise that a child hasn’t done so well today so I still have a couple of hours to get along side of them and encourage them in some way - hopefully leading to a situation where I can praise them before the end of the day.

A caution to praise:

We can so easily get caught up in the concept of praising our kids and making them feel good though, that we don’t stop to think of the repercussions of our words. What are the consequences of ill-timed praise? I believe it lowers our children’s standards – the standard that they hold in their own heart.

Lets look at it. When a child is given a task – be it an academic task or a moral task in the end, they know in their hearts to what standard they have been successful. They know the attitude of their heart, they know if they did well, or if they did the barest necessity. Then parent comes along and says, “Good job!” This confirms that the standard that they performed to is a standard good enough for mum and dad – or other adult.

The praise (though intended for good) actually confirms a lower standard than is excellent.

In the past a lot of parenting styles would be labelled, these days, as authoritative or legalistic. This style of parenting would have said very little when the child did succeed and said very much when the parent was disappointed. I wonder if our ill-timed praise has come as a reaction, trying to find a balance to a more relational style parenting.

I believe the pendulum has swung too far.

The balance is in seeing what praise can do for a child. Praise confirms the standard, confirms the moral rightness of an action rather than just making a child feel good about himself.

The idea of making a child feel good about himself is slightly out of whack too – what does really make a child feel good about himself? I believe it is when they know they are doing right – morally right. When they can serve others instead of putting themselves first they will feel good about themselves and who they are. When they stand up for a principle, even against the crowd, they will feel good about themselves, true to themselves. Our praise, when it is aimed at anything less than the standard the children are aiming for only sends mixed messages.

To find the balance between no praise and excessive (damaging) praise is to see that we have many tools to train the hearts of our children to the moral standard we desire for them. In wanting to do better than the authoritarian, strong, silent parent style, or the over the top reactionary parent, we need to realise that praise is not our only option in Character Training.

If a child doesn’t quite reach the standard you or even himself is aiming for then there is room for more Character Training and that is a good thing. Praising without the words to redirect them will only lower the standard. I am not at all saying that a word of encouragement isn’t what is required but if we leave it at that, if we leave it at “Wow! That is fantastic!” when you really desire more for your child, how are they going to reach for more?

In order for our children to really grab hold of the opportunities to display character we must show them the rewards for excellence in our Character Training. We need to be aware of what our children are doing – we need to “catch” them doing good. We do need to praise them but we need to praise them sincerely and truthfully.

Live life with your kids!

Read the next Character Training article:
What about negative behaviour? Training as a parent is both proactive and reactive. Long term results are to be found in using Character traits when dealing with negative behaviour.

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