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New Ways to Praise: Moving Beyond “I’m Proud of You”

It’s built into the way most of us parent. We praise our kids for everything they do – broad praise that actually means little but has a major impact. Contrary to what many parents think, the impact is not positive.


Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman share the negative impacts of overpraising kids in their book “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.” They emphasize the importance of praising a child’s sincere effort and improvement on a task as opposed to labeling them as smart and throwing praise at everything they do. Kids who are overpraised and labeled as naturally smart are actually less likely to take on challenging tasks. They veer away from anything that takes effort.

More recent research has gone even further in proving that overpraising is a big mistake. Besides encouraging our kids to give up when things get hard, it also gives them inflated egos and may cause them to become narcissists later in life.

Though research points out that there may also be a genetic link to narcissism, children who are already predisposed and grow up with parents who constantly overestimate their worth and abilities stand a higher chance of turning into narcissists.

Do we say nothing?

The hardest part about this information is that parents, especially in the Western world, are primed to praise. We want to tell our kids how well they are doing, and we want them to feel valued.

These aren’t bad desires, but raising kids who constantly reach for external praise, especially if we offer it when they don’t do anything extraordinary, is a bad idea. We want kids to be intrinsically motivated, working to achieve their best because they want to.

There is praise we can offer in the right circumstances that can point kids inward. It can also focus them on hard work and effort as opposed to innate smarts. Instead of falling back on the old “I’m so proud of you” try one of these alternatives.

You should be proud of you

When we tell our kids we’re proud of them, we train them to seek out our approval. We should teach them to seek out self-approval, being proud of an accomplishment when they know they put in all the effort they could.

This doesn’t mean only being proud of themselves when they come in first place. Teaching our kids to be proud of themselves means teaching them that life is about the journey. Maybe they made a B on a test, but they know how hard they studied and what a challenge the class was, so they are proud of that B more than they would be an A in an easy class. It’s a lesson in appreciating their own effort.

That took a lot of work

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging how hard our kids work. The key is to make sure the work is worthy of notice and to praise the effort, not the outcome. Praising the effort means our kids will learn to appreciate the work part of succeeding instead of assuming it should come easily.

I see the progress you’ve made

My oldest daughter sauntered into a gymnastics class and displayed the cartwheels and round offs she taught herself in our backyard. She walked out an hour later in tears.

Her form needed work, and this gym offered her challenges she’d never dreamed of facing. After she fell, her coach wisely gave her the advice that gymnastics is like life: What matters is if you get back up.

She did, and every week she’s improved. I’ve told her that, never falling for the trap of telling her she’s doing everything perfectly. That would be insincere and untrue, and she knows it. Praising her progress gives me a way to offer affirmation for her hard work and encourage her to appreciate the effort she’s put into gymnastics.

You grew a lot from that challenge

Acknowledging failure is necessary. No one is going to win all the time, and participation trophies given to everyone often rob our children of the chances to experience, and learn from, failure.

We can talk to our kids about experiences that don’t go well while still praising their ability to grow through the situation. Maybe a child doesn’t make the team or win first place. Instead of railing against the people who didn’t choose them or making excuses for why they lost, we can point out ways they grew. Did they try something difficult, develop a new skill, or find a new passion they can continue to follow? All of these are worthy of our attention.

Changing our method doesn’t mean withholding affirmation

We don’t have to be stoic, unresponsive parents to raise kids who are intrinsically motivated, nor do we have to underplay the accomplishments that are worthy of notice. What we need to do is become aware of how often we train our kids to seek external motivation and how much we heap empty praise on our kids for doing the bare minimum.

Withholding praise feels foreign at first, but it’s a change that offers long-term benefits to our kids. Reducing the risk of raising a narcissist and teaching kids that hard work is an important part of life are benefits that make watching our words worth the trouble.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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