Do we keep our children from doing their best when we give them false praise and encouragement for half-hearted efforts?

Recently I was called away from a Scrabble-like word game that I enjoy playing on the computer. My score on this game is usually between 800 and 1000, and my highest scores have been over 1100. I hit the quit game ? button and it tallied up a score that was half of what I usually easily score. Great game! ? the computer told me.

I talked back. That wasn ?t a good game. That was half of a good game. ? Curious, I played at varying levels of skill to see what the computer would tell me at each level.

Over 800 ? it tells me I am Amazing! ?

Between 600 and 799 ? It tells me I am Excellent! ?

Between 400 and 599 ? It tells me I had a Great Game! ?

Between 100 and 399 ? It tells me I had a Nice Game! ?

Under 100 ? It finally gives me a gentle You can do better. ?

Assuming the artificial intelligence was working properly, it would adjust the praise to meet my level of performance, giving me a you can do better ? at 600 or 700 points. As parents we often do the same thing. I remember my father questioning me sternly about a B+ ? and then watched my parents do back flips over a C ? on my brother ?s report card. Having put in some hard time with teen-agers, I now understand fully the concept of praising improvement. I also understand about having reasonable expectations. However, sometimes in lowering our expectations, we allow our children to lower their standards and continue to do less than that of which they are capable. In allowing them to slide by in school, I can only conclude that we are preparing them to slide by in life. I have reminded my children that while they may be able to snow mom and dad at times, Your boss is not going to be someone who loves you. ?

I am not addressing here legitimate praise that follows legitimate efforts, no matter the grade or outcome, but the unwarranted feel good ? praise that is meted out indiscriminately for a lazy, slipshod, procrastinated project thrown together at the last-minute. I believe that receiving something we have not earned does not give us self-esteem. If anything, it lowers our image of ourselves because we know we are receiving something we don ?t deserve.

When we do a good job at something, or have to try harder at something to succeed, there is a wonderful affirming sense of accomplishment that comes. When we have conquered a difficult subject or even more challenging, overcome our own weakness that is preventing us from achieving, any praise that follows is frosting on the cake.

One Thanksgiving, more out of a desire not to be The Little Red Hen ? and do it all myself, I assigned each of our family members a dish to prepare. I orchestrated things, of course, but it was great to watch each of them beam at the compliments.

What do you call this? It ?s great! ?

Pumpkin chiffon pie. But I didn ?t make it. Shawn did. ?

You mean you let him stir? ?

No, I mean he made it. I just answered his questions and got measuring cups out for him, stuff like that. ?

Are our children having true success experiences, or are we meting out undeserved praise and showering them with accolades when we should we be raising the bar and/or lowering the boom?

Are we raising a generation of under-achievers because we are giving a pat on the back when we should be giving a kick in the butt?

Once a neighbor in a pinch called upon one of our sons to mow her lawn. She couldn ?t sing his praises loud enough for the professional job he had done. At our house, he usually did one of two things confirm the neighbors suspicions of alien activity by mowing crop circles, or run the lawn mower over a large rock rendering it inoperable. (I think Sears finally refused to renew our service agreement.) I ?m sure others could tell similar stories. It is not ability that is lacking but motivation. Therefore, we need to make doubly sure that when praise is due, we are handing out without holding back. But in the meantime, we do our children no favors if we allow them to slide by doing less than their best and hand out rewards not earned.