If you praise children only when they’re performing, we shouldn’t be surprised that our communities are filled with stressed out, insecure, highly-competitive, ego-centric, discontent children who don’t know how to sit still and ponder how they can make a difference in the lives of other people. If the only positive affirmation they receive is when they’re turning out high scores, when their names display at the top of the class, or when they edge out a teammate, they’ll crave praise; they’ll look to others for validation, and they’ll see others as competitors instead of teammates in life. They’ll never scratch the surface of their potential, and they’ll never make the vital connection to their intrinsic value.
And when they grow bored of you and your praise no longer feeds their ego, instead of looking inside themselves for their center, they’ll be looking for another person’s nod of approval to fill your shoes. And as adults, we know there will never be a shortage of people who’ll want to grind them out for their purposes.
Parents, leaders, teachers, and coaches, remember that we are guides, not masters. We are to be witnesses, not play-makers. We are mere tools, not the Creator.
In all our effort to develop the children in our care, may we never mistake their performance for their significance. May we never use our powerful positions in their lives to drown out their small and potent voices. May we never ask a child to substitute our approval for their own self worth.
If you’re blessed to work with children, be mindful of your proper role in their lives. Our big, adult guidelines for rating performance are far too small to contain the true value of a child, and they’re too young and undeveloped to see the difference on their own. Teach these young souls to enjoy the journey of learning and growing, not the destination of their scores. Teach them that school and sports and music and art are about sharing our gifts and talents with the world, not boosting our egos and enlarging our kingdoms.
Because when these beautiful children get older, we’ll want them to look back and know how much we loved them and believed in them, not for how great (or not) their performance, but simply because they were there.