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Too much praise bad as too little



Published: Sat, January 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Q. I praise my 20-month-old for specific accomplishments, but I don't make a huge deal out of it because I don't want him to need my praise for everything he does. I have a friend who praises her toddler every time he says or does anything (even words he has known and things he has been doing for months). She has even taught him to clap for himself when he does something properly. Am I wrong in thinking that this is a bit much?

A. No, you are not wrong. It is not only unnecessary to praise a child -- regardless of age -- for every single accomplishment, it is also counterproductive. In praise, as in many things related to the rearing of children, moderation is the key. Too much praise creates a dependency on being praised which inhibits, rather than promotes, accomplishment and independence. Having a toddler applaud himself is well-intentioned silliness. In another year or so, your friend is going to wonder why her child won't leave her alone.

Q. When should we tell our 5-year-old son that he was conceived out of wedlock, and how should we tell him?

A. That you think this is something you ever need to tell your son is borne of the "psychological thinking" typical of today's parents. Your question implies that if he finds out on his own, either the information will traumatize him in some way and/or he will feel betrayed and never trust you again.

Please allow me to point out that the commandment enjoining us to never bear false witness does not mean one has to tell all, especially to a child. Withholding information from a child is completely justifiable if the information is irrelevant and/or unhelpful. In this case, the information is most certainly both irrelevant and unhelpful. Furthermore, your son will figure this out on his own at some point, assuming he acquires basic math skills.

How did othershandle the situation?

Knowing that some friends of mine conceived their first child out of wedlock, I called them and asked how they had handled the issue.

"We didn't," the husband replied. "When our son was in his twenties, he told us, rather casually and with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes, that he had figured this out when he was in his early teens and never told us out of respect for us."

I asked, "Did you ever fear that if he found out on his own, the discovery would damage his respect for you?"

"You know," my friend replied, "we trusted that when he figured it out, he would realize that we had accepted full responsibility for conceiving him and bringing him into the world. We also trusted, and correctly so as it turned out, that the discovery would increase his respect for us."

Knowing that he and his wife had always made clear to their children that sex was a sacred act, properly reserved for marriage, I asked, "What about the possibility that he would think you were hypocrites?"

My friend thought for a moment, then answered, "We trusted that he was intelligent enough to know that a person who makes mistakes, admits to them, and takes full responsibility for them is not a hypocrite."

I think that says it all.

XJohn Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 E. 86th St., Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 and at his Web site: http://www.rosemond.com/.




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