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How to encourage excellence without it being "never good enough" {Guest Post}

by Rachel Norman

I have a niggling feeling most of us Babywise moms have something in common: we have high standards.

I'm not talking impossible or unrealistic standards, but high ones nonetheless. We don't want to push our children beyond their abilities or make them feel they must earn love and attention, but we do aim high.

A positive result of encouraging – or requiring - your children to aim high is they learn to work hard, push through fears, and rarely are they lazy. A negative result of requiring excellence (done the wrong way) is children feel their efforts are never good enough.

I don’t think I’m alone here when I say that I want my kids to do the best they can, but I never want them to feel that they can’t ever do good enough for me. No way!

In a nutshell, it all boils down to one thing: whether we require a result or we require their best effort.

If one child makes all A’s, you might throw a party. If another child makes A’s and B’s, but you know they tried their hardest, you should still throw a party. There will be times when we put in our very best effort and don’t meet success. That is life. We don’t want our children to think they must nail everything they try for us to be proud. Rather, we want them to feel we are proud of them for giving it their all and reaching high.

Here are some ways we can promote excellence without leaving our kids feeling nothing is ever good enough.

1.     Let each situation be it’s own.

When a child comes home from a ballgame or a test and brags about their efforts, do not say phrases like, “That’s great, but next time you could try even harder!”  That deflates children’s spirits and leaves them asking what exactly must they do for you to be fully proud of them.

If you know they didn’t try hard or were lazy, that’s another story. But if they tried hard, let it be. If you see room for improvement and know they’d value your opinion, save it until there’s another ballgame or test. There will always be another ballgame or test, there’s no need to belittle their effort this time because its effects will carry over.

2.     Give heavy emphasis to effort.

The book Nurture Shock states that children who were praised for their effort actually tried harder and found better results than those praised for their intelligence or IQ. Let that sink in. Kids will intrinsically know when they’ve done well at something, so they need far less flowery praise and flattery than we might think. What they don’t know intuitively is how important working hard is.

When doing activities around the home be sure to praise children’s efforts. It’s okay to say, “I don’t think you’re trying very hard right now” if it’s true. I honestly think I know my children very well because of Babywise. The consistency and routine in our home allows me to easily recognize when my kids are off. I can tell the difference between fussiness and sickness, emotional distress or a tantrum.

Use your knowledge of each child to determine if they’re trying hard, and if they are, let it be enough.

3.  Focus on persistence and consistency.

The character traits of persistence, endurance, and consistency should be highly valued in your home. So many trials and troubles in life require our endurance, and if we aren’t used to putting in effort adulthood will be a big challenge. When children know that it’s okay to fail, and that the important thing is getting back on the horse, they won’t feel their love is tied to their actions.

They may think you are perfect, so feel free to dispel them of that notion. Tell them it took you years to learn how to cook well, that the first few garments you sewed fell apart on the first wear, or that you applied for 25 jobs before you found a good one. Be human and let them know that overnight success is a myth.

4.  Give grace.

 There will be times when they try hard and fail. There’ll be times when they don’t try hard and fail. The key is to create an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and grace. You don’t condone outright disobedience or laziness, but that doesn’t mean you think they must be perfect.

Understand that a child’s greatest need is to feel loved and accepted by you. Of course they need to be prepared for adulthood, but part of how they’ll enter adulthood with security and confidence is if they know you are proud of them.

Be free with your specific praise, always praise effort, and at the end of the day, just tell them you love them for no reason at all.

Rachel blogs at A Mother Far from Home on parenting and motherhood. For a free copy of her ebook 20 Things A Mother Should & Shouldn’t Expect and a copy of her Turnabout Burnout report, visit her blog and sign up for weekly practical tips to raise your little ones. 

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