Graduation and Affirmation

Lisa Mychalishyn

June brings about many things anticipated by parents and children alike...warm weather, vacation, summer cookouts, and the end of another school year.  This is a wonderful time to reflect on the achievements that a student has made during the school year: a first grader, who started the year reading only the simplest of words, finishes the year a confident reader who may even be turning the pages of a chapter book!  An older student may finally have cracked the Pythagorean theorem, after hours of homework at the kitchen table.  Maybe your child completed a milestone year and is now a graduate! While everyday accomplishments are worthy of praise, the end of the school year is the perfect time to praise your child for nine months of hard work and accomplishment. Here are a few things to keep in mind when praising your child:

  • Be Sincere - Children are more perceptive than we often think.  If they don’t believe you mean the praise, they will discount the statement.  If the child only got 70% correct on a test, telling them they did “awesome” isn’t honest. This praise can actually have the negative effects of causing lost trust and making the child more insecure.  They don’t know when you really mean the positive words.

  • Be Specific - Not only does specificity show your child that you actually paid attention to their achievement (which is important in today’s culture of distractions), but praise that’s specific is more likely to be perceived as sincere.  Instead of just saying “great job,” give specific feedback like “Wow!  Your painting looks just like our pet, the eyes are the perfect color green.”

  • Praise the Effort, Not Just the Ability- We should praise the effort put forth while working.  Many times the process is more praiseworthy than the end result.  Each child is blessed with different gifts. Not every child is a gifted athlete, but showing persistence by continually practicing, or trying again after failure, are some actions worthy of praise.  Achieving a B grade in a challenging class takes more effort than receiving an A in a class that comes naturally to a child. Be sure to emphasize the child’s efforts spent on these difficult tasks. Re-consider the example from the “Be Sincere” section, where the child scored 70%.  If this score is an improvement for the child, or if this score is the result of significant preparation, then that effort should be praised. It’s important to provide praise where there is some behavior that goes above and beyond normal efforts, and is something you would like the child to repeat.

While praising a child’s effort, it’s a great opportunity to parallel that not only are you pleased, but also the Lord.  

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” Colossians 3:23

Praising effort instead of ability will also benefit the child.  Columbia University researchers Claudia Lueller and Carol Dweck found that when children were praised for their effort instead of their intelligence, they were more likely to want to practice in order to improve, and less likely to quickly accept failure. The children who had efforts praised also scored better on more challenging problems in subsequent tests.

There’s another crucial concept to think about concerning praise, and that’s how much praise to give.  There are so many conflicting opinions on the “right” amount of praise, but many experts say that the quality of the praise is more important than the quantity.  So, if you’re following the three points above, and giving praise when it’s deserving, then you should be positively impacting your child.  So, go ahead and celebrate everything it takes to complete one year of school…hard work, focus, homework, tests, teamwork, failures and successes.   Enjoy one of these gorgeous June evenings.  Reward your child with an ice cream cone, and tell them how proud you are of all they accomplished this school year!