Praising children without creating entitled princes and princesses

Praising children without creating entitled princes and princesses. "So you equated telling my child that she's amazing and beautiful and wonderful and that she'll be thinking she's a princess, and I'm saying that doesn't have to happen" - Dr. Vicki Panaccione, child psychologist

Praising children without creating entitled princes and princesses. “So you equated telling my child that she’s amazing and beautiful and wonderful and that she’ll be thinking she’s a princess, and I’m saying that doesn’t have to happen” – Dr. Vicki Panaccione, child psychologist

The following is part 2 of a transcript of an interview between Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, PhD and Dr. Vicki Panaccione, child psychologist and Founder and Director of the Better Parenting Institute discussing a study that reveals that teenage children would choose fame over greater intelligence, beauty or physical strength. Patrick Wanis and Dr. Vicki also explore parenting styles and Dr. Vicki answers the question “Can children be divine without being narcissistic?” by revealing 4 strategies to raising children with healthy self-esteem. For previous part of this transcript (Part 1), click here:

Patrick: Okay. Now we recognize that as adults. We say the children are Divine, they’re special. They bring a beautiful gift to the world, but how do we balance that? How do we relay that to the child so the child therefore respects him or herself, but also respects other people and recognizes “I’m not just a princess and I’m not naturally entitled to everything in the world; I have to do something; I have to contribute something; I have to realize my full potential.”

Dr. Vicki: Ah! So you equated telling my child that she’s amazing and beautiful and wonderful and that she’ll be thinking she’s a princess, and I’m saying that doesn’t have to happen.

Patrick: So how do we make sure that doesn’t happen? How do we do that?

Dr. Vicki: We do that first of all by having requirements of our children, behavioral requirements and so on. It’s not okay to break the rules. It’s not okay to disobey mommy. It’s not okay, whatever, and there are limits that we place on them and requirements and expectations that we teach our children to rise to.

For instance, there’s a difference between valuing who the person is and valuing what they do. In many cases, kids only feel they’re okay when they’re bringing the A home or making that touchdown, looking really pretty. It’s things that they’re doing, but I also want them to feel good about the fact that just because they’re in this world, they’re valuable and they don’t need to do anything to be valued and respected. That’s not the same as contributing.

So I can think that this child is wonderful and I can affirm that by saying affirmations to my child, “I’m so glad to be your mom. You bring such joy to my life,” things like that. Those are affirmations. He doesn’t have to do anything; he just is. Their smile lights up the room. He’s not accomplishing. I’m not rewarding him for behavior. I’m just giving him feedback about the magnificent person he is.

On the other hand, I’m also going to place a lot of value on the things he does, but I want there to be a balance. So he doesn’t have to do anything to be valued as a person, but what he does is also valued as is his behavior. So I am going to praise him for bringing home that A or for making a soccer goal or for showing good behavior because those are the things that we want to help unfold in our kids.

But beyond that, I do want them to feel that there’s a value to them. They’re valuable just because they exist, but if we just pay attention to that, “You’re so beautiful” and we don’t really place expectations or requirements on them, that’s when we’re teaching them they don’t really have to bring anything else to the world. It’s just being, and that’s when I think they get that sense of entitlement.

Patrick: All right. Dr. Vicki is a child psychologist and as a parent has already raised a child. How do you find the balance? You have a boy. Let’s say when your boy was seven or eight, now, he might have been for some reason particularly well-behaved, but if your child plays up occasionally, let’s say he’s badly behaving and he hasn’t performed well at school and maybe he’s hanging out with the wrong boys, how do you still say to him, “You’re a great gift. I love you just for being here. Your smile makes me feel great.” How do you do that and still punish him or discipline him?

Dr. Vicki: Well, that’s exactly what I suggest that parents do because the idea is as a parent, we love our kids unconditionally. We know that. There are people who are in prison because they’ve murdered and their parents still love them. The love and the fun that we feel for our kids don’t go away. So in disciplining, it’s important I think to separate out who a child is from what he or she does. So what we’re addressing in a negative way is the behavior.

Actually, the very first time when my son was young — and I can’t even tell you what he did. He’s maybe like two when I really said — he did something and I needed to discipline him. I’m just like, “Okay Vicki, here’s your chance. You’ve got to do it right.”

I put him on my lap and I said — because he was scared. He was nervous. He knew he’d done something wrong. I said, “First of all, I love you very much. Now, we have to talk about what you did that I didn’t like at all.” And so, I wasn’t disciplining the person. I was disciplining what the person did.

Patrick: So you separate the person from the action.

Dr. Vicki: Yes.

Patrick: Which is the way of reinforcing good behavior versus bad behavior, but also saying to the person “I’m still going to love you, but there are consequences for your actions.”

Dr. Vicki: Absolutely. And kids really, kids think they’re entitled. They always have the right to make a choice literally. We can always make choices. We just have to understand that there are consequences, positive or negative that goes with our choices. So as Divine Beings, we have the right to make choices.

Listen, a child has the right or the ability let’s say to decide whether to do his homework or not. We can’t make his hand hold the pencil and write the answers. We can’t do that, but we can hold them accountable and know that there are consequences if he doesn’t do his homework, and there are rewards in terms of good grades and other things if he does.

So kids, really from the time they’re born and they’re very little, they really have this Divine right to choose. And it’s our job as parents — and here’s where many of us don’t do a good job, is we need to teach the consequences or the rewards of the choices that kids make.

Patrick: You raise another interesting point though, Dr. Vicki, again as a child psychologist. You’re saying that children have — first, you’re saying they have a right to choose and second, they have the ability to choose. The challenge with children from the day they’re born until they become even adults and even beyond sometimes, is that particularly looking at the developmental stages of children, they don’t have a good ability to choose.

They might have the right to choose. They have the ability to choose, but their ability to choose is impaired by the lack of the full development of their brain. Therefore, they tend to act on emotional impulses because their brain hasn’t fully developed, so their executive decision maker isn’t fully engaged. In other words, they’ll do things that are obviously driven by emotion, instant gratification without thinking forward, future-based thinking of what are the consequences.

So how do you get around that? How do you teach that to a child and not get frustrated where you say, “You know what? I don’t even want to see you” because that’s what parents say. They get frustrated sometimes, “I don’t want to see you. Get out of my face,” which I’m sure you would never say.

Dr. Vicki: Well, I am a good parent. I am, and I worked very hard on it. I think that I brought a lot of skill and a lot of knowledge to the table, so I don’t necessarily hold myself up as this is the way to do it. I mean, I did a good job with my child and I made a lot of mistakes. I’ve encountered situations like the first time he told me he hated me. So even though I was a great mom, I still had those same moments.

But I think the thing is that I change the word “right” to “ability” because really when you think about it, kids have the ability to choose every step of the way. We might not like their choices and we might even say, “No, you don’t have the right to choose this. I’m the parent,” which is correct, but the kids still could do it whether you like it or not. So it’s always in the child’s power whether you like or not, but how we respond to what they do helps mold them, helps create them, helps them unfold it to being responsible, honest, kind, moral, so on and so forth kind of kid.

We don’t want our kids to lie, but they have the ability to lie. How we respond to that lie is going to determine whether they continue to lie and learn that that’s something that works for them and they take it into their adulthood. So yes, kids don’t have the ability to act or react rationally a lot of the time because they’re acting from their emotions or they don’t have the experience or the knowledge of making choices, the choice that we would want them to make or what we would call the right choice, but they’re always choosing.

They need to learn that there are pros and cons to the choices that they make. I like to say to kids when you’re disciplining them, “I see you chose to lose your technology privileges.” “No, I don’t want to.” “Well, here was our agreement. If you did this, you’re going to get to play on the computer and if you didn’t do this, you were going to lose that privilege. So when you didn’t do it, you chose not to get on the computer.”

So really, from the very young, you can teach the kids that “the choices that I make bring me good stuff or not such good stuff.” It could be a consequence, it could be a punishment, it could be a lack of doing something or a consequence that they have to do, but really it’s all about making choices from the time that they’re very little on and how we respond to those choices is what’s going to teach our kids.

How we respond to those choices, number one, and the other big thing that we have to do as parents is make good choices ourselves because we are the role models for our kids. And if we’re making good choices, they’re going to learn to make good choices. If we’re making poor choices, that’s the model that they’re going to have.

Patrick: Yes, of course. You’ve raised many great points, one of which is the most important, is that you have to be a great role model. If you’re making good choices, it’s much easier for your child to make similarly good choices.

One final point before wrapping up today, there is a difference in the way that a mother is a parent and the way that a father is a parent.

For continuation of this article, Part 3, click here:

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