We tell kids all the time that it’s the effort that counts, right? Let’s say they try really hard at an art project and it looks horrible. We still say, “That’s wonderful!” We know they tried their hardest, because we watched them, and there’s value in that. I mean, we want to encourage them in their efforts.
Really, some people pay good money to do what a 5-year-old might be able to do. (Confession: modern art is not my favorite.)
As we raise our kids, we want them to grow in their character – to develop virtue. Trouble is, if we praise a single, special effort without challenging them to grow, our words can become vain flattery in time.
Not only have I done this to my kids, but I’ve actually wanted this kind of praise for myself. Am I the only one that thinks flattery becomes me?
(I’m a mess.)
Yes, to praise and challenge them at the same time takes some tact (i.e. humility + gentleness). It’s an art form in itself.
Think about it this way. Perseverance is a great character trait that might be exhibited in a project they worked hard on, but are they a person of perseverance because of this project? What about acts of kindness? If a particularly wild and mildly cruel child shows kindness, we want to praise them for the act of kindness, but does it make them a kind person?
So here’s something to think about:
“The strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.” – Blaise Pascal
I suggest we look for patterns of good behavior. When we consistently point them out and praise them for it, we are emphasizing a growing character trait. By their habitual acts we are measuring the strength of their virtue.
I want to help my kids know that it’s not just effort, but consistent effort that defines a man’s virtue.