The Power of Praise
As we enter another conference season, I’m brushing the dust off a speech that hasn’t been requested for many years. A number of regional and state homeschool conferences have asked me to present “The Power of Praise with Our Children”—in fact, it’s the most requested speech this season. Based on the biblical principle that life and death are in the power of the tongue, the talk’s goal is to ensure that children do not grow up feeling rejection from their parents because of bad communication. Through good communication, a relationship can be developed between parent and child that lasts forever.
J. Michael Smith, President of Home School Legal Defense Association.
I’m not sure why so many conferences are choosing this talk, but Home School Legal Defense Association fields enough calls from our member families to know that many parents are experiencing strained relationships with their children and, in some cases, severe rebellion—despite the great opportunity homeschooling parents have to spend time with their children communicating and developing strong relationships.
Arguably, the greatest influence on relationships is communication—through words and actions. Not only do our actions need to support our words, but we also need to consider whether our communication is positive. We can all agree that, generally, a lack of communication will be negative.
The average father spends seven minutes a day with his child. As the child gets older, the father may feel increasingly awkward about showing affection, and during those few minutes that he does have the opportunity to converse with his children, my guess is that the conversation is about chores, schoolwork, correction, and so on.
What can happen when positive communication is withheld from our children? Feeling a lack of love and acceptance, our children can become driven by an insatiable need to achieve, to seek that love and acceptance in ways that are fleeting and only give temporary happiness, such as material gain or success and fame. Some children will go the other direction. Convinced they can do nothing to please their parents and earn words of love and acceptance, they simply give up and travel down the road of apathy, depression, and withdrawal.
If we want to bless our children with the tongue, what should that look like? We should focus on praising our children for character development. When words of praise are only linked to a child’s performance, they lose much of their impact. Children who have to perform to get a blessing retain a nagging uncertainty about whether they are ever really good enough. They ask in their heart, “Am I loved for who I am, or only for what I do?”
We should look for opportunities to praise our children for being honest, loyal, diligent, kind, sensitive, helpful, obedient, etc. We simply seek to affirm our love and appreciation for our children with honest praise.
When we recognize that our family is having a communication issue, I believe we also should recognize that children need more praise than criticism. The spoken word is powerful and God has given us the responsibility of affirming our children and guiding them to make good choices.
Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so.” If praise doesn’t come naturally to you, try this popular sales trick: place ten pennies in your pocket and whenever you praise your child, transfer one penny to your other pocket. The goal is to move all of the pennies from one pocket to the other by the end of the day.
One family came up with a great idea to praise and encourage their kids. They designed a “Celebrating Our Family” news bulletin board where they could post their children’s successes, triumphs, and even some of their struggles. Others have a family journal where they record their children’s interests and endeavors. Some write letters to their graduating seniors and hold special celebrations for presenting the letters.
Now, all of us who are trying to be more positive and encouraging will blow it now and then. But we can redeem the relationship. Through a one-on-one conversation with our child, we can acknowledge that we blew it this time and we were wrong. We can seek the child’s forgiveness, affirm him or her, and express our unconditional love.
When we praise our children, even more important than the words we use is the lasting impression we are creating on our children’s lives. If they know that we think they’re great, it will carry them through hard times, loneliness, discouragement, and failure. Someone once said, “They may not remember what we said, but they’ll always remember how we made them feel.”
Wouldn’t it be devastating if after all the years that we homeschooling parents devoted to raising our children, when they were ready to leave the house they didn’t have any relationship with us, or it was merely superficial, infrequent, and at times very uncomfortable? The lack of positive communication will not only impact that dynamic between parents and their adult children, but will in all likelihood make it difficult for the children to have positive and long-lasting relationships with others as well.
Most of you reading this have at least another 40 years on earth to spend with your children. It’s a tremendous opportunity to enjoy them and your grandchildren. My prayer is that when the phone rings in your children’s house on Saturday morning, their heart will leap for joy as they say, “I hope that’s Mom or Dad.”
For a more in-depth discussion of this topic, see Mike Smith’s webinar “Blessing Your Children with Words of Praise.”