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How to praise your kids

How to praise your kids | Cultural Trendz |

You're a good parent and you want to help your kids grow up to be happy and successful. So, when you notice them doing something right, you jump in with praise and encouragement. But is all that praise sending the right message?

This post originally appeared on The Fine Parent.

Turns out the answer is, yes and no.

You've got the first part right—as parents we are our children's first and foremost cheerleaders. Our children need to hear encouragement from us to have a healthy level of self-confidence and self-esteem.

The key however, is to understand what kind of praise is appropriate in which situation.

Think of praise as water. It is like a life force that has the power to help a little acorn grow into a huge oak tree. It has the power to keep everything green and beautiful and growing. But, it also has the power to drown, rot or just mildew everything. The key, like everything, is knowing when and how to use it correctly.

Example: The Budding Artist

Consider this sample scenario, adapted from the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling Start Connecting. Let's say it's one of those rare quiet weekends—for a change you have no other plans and you have the whole morning to yourselves. You ask your daughter what she wants to do, and she chooses to do some art.

Of course, just as you notice how much uninterrupted time you've had to finish up your chores and marvel at how much effort she is putting into it, she walks up to you proudly displaying her painting and asks, "Mom (or Dad), do you like my painting?"

What if she is holding up a mess and you have no clue what it is supposed to be? Let's consider some responses.

How NOT to Praise (and Why)

Response 1: Irrespective of whether it is indeed a good painting or not, you put on your best smile and cheerfully say "Wow, great job!" with the best intention of encouraging your child.

Why it's not a good choice: This kind of praise is the least effective since it only provides a momentary good feeling due to the positive attention, but does not give any clue about why it is a "great job."

If we constantly use this kind of praise without moderation (and sadly, most of us do just that!), we may actually turn our kids into praise junkies who will do anything, even a very shabby job, to get their regular fix of a quick feel-good emotion brought on by a "great job."

Here's another nasty side-effect. Sometimes I'm busy and don't have the time to give appropriate attention to what my daughter is showing me and I tend to say "great job" as a quick stand-in for real encouragement. Sadly, this makes "great job" disintegrate into a saccharine version of "go away." And like the story of the boy who cried wolf, when I do mean it as genuine praise, it ends up sending completely wrong signals.

Response 2: Let's say the painting is really good. You are very proud of your child and enthusiastically say, "That's beautiful! You are a natural artist!"

Why it's not a good choice: This kind of praise is the birthplace of the fixed mindset that we so want to avoid.

This statement contains an implicit message that natural talent is what makes someone or something great. From that, the child may extrapolate that if she is seen putting in too much effort then she won't be considered a "natural" any more. And since natural talent is what makes her special, she may not want to let go of that honor and may actually be dissuaded from putting in any effort into getting better. So whatever talent she may have gets stifled with no room to grow.

Also, this is too much of a burden to place on a child—the child now has to live up to the expectation of being a great natural artist every time she paints. Of course we don't mean it that way, but can you think of a harsher way to kill the joy of simply enjoying the creative process?

Response 3: Let's say you have no idea what the painting is about or the painting is rather grotesque. But, you want to be an encouraging parent and so you enthusiastically say, "That's beautiful! You are a natural artist!" anyway.

Why it's not a good choice: At some level our kids know when their work is sub-par. Your daughter may have tried to do something and when it didn't work out, she may have just scribbled over it in frustration. Or she may realize that her proportions are off and the painting looks no good. She comes to you for comfort. When she receives false praise, it confuses her—there is no link between the praise she is receiving and her perception of the situation.

While you may have good intentions, this does more harm than good because it undermines the child's ability to judge her own work and can even creates a sense of shame because mom/dad thinks so highly of her painting "skills" while deep down she worries that she sucks!

Now let's take this a step further. What if your child replies to you with, "I hate it. It's no good!"

Since we started out with "That's beautiful!", chances are we will continue with false praise, and the web of lies gets more and more tangled. This can confuse kids even more by devaluing their own judgement and deepening their sense of frustration/shame.

The Better Way to Praise (and Why)

Response 1: Regardless of whether it is indeed a good painting or not, pay real attention to what your child is showing you and say with a smile "You spent a lot of time working on that! What do we have here?"

Why it's a good choice: This response is very different and we have not explicitly praised anything. Yet, to our kids this matters more than any overt praise we try to provide.

Action speaks volumes—stopping what you are doing and paying real attention shows them that they matter and mom/dad cares about what they do. This lays a good foundation for healthy self-esteem as they grow up.

Your words focus on the time they spent working on the painting, something they can be proud of regardless of the end result. When the focus is on the effort, rather than the result, it lays the foundation for finding intrinsic joy in the activity rather than looking for an external source of feel-good emotions.

Response 2: Suppose it is a very good painting and you want to encourage your child by pointing it out, you could again stop what you are doing, give your child complete attention, and then say, "I see you are getting better at painting each day! I remember there was a time you could barely draw a circle and look at you now! So, what do we have here?"

Why it's a good choice: Again, as before, you are giving the child full attention and sending the signal that they are worth it.

However, here you are actually explicitly praising your child's painting. The key difference from the fixed-mindset praise earlier is that your focus is not on any innate talent, but on the amount of effort your child has been putting into it. Talent is not within anybody's control while effort is. So this kind of praise shows the child what they can do more of, if they want to get better at something that they think they are good at.

Also, by being descriptive, you let the child know in easily quantifiable terms that they have made progress. Not to mention, that mom/dad has noticed! And of course, by asking a question in the end instead of leaving it a statement, you open it up for further discussion.

Response 3: Suppose the painting bombed. Again, after you stop what you are doing, you ask your child, "You spent a lot of time working on that! What do we have here?" as before. Chances are the child will blurt out how much she tried to do something but it bombed or may lament that she sucks as painting etc.

Acknowledge her judgement—"Painting faces can be tough... Lots of artists spend years practicing how to get the proportions and expressions just right."

Perhaps offer to help her improve—"Do you want to try art classes to get better at painting faces?" Or, if she is already taking classes, "Why don't we ask Miss Jess next week for some pointers on how to paint faces?" Or, "I think there are some online videos on techniques for painting faces—do you want me to help you look it up?".

Remember, your child may take you up on the offer, or may choose to continue sulking instead. Either are perfectly fine options. If your child was frustrated with the effort and needs to vent out steam, let them.

Why it's a good choice: This is the holy grail of positive reinforcement. The key here is that we are slowly working on taking ourselves out of the equation, and letting our kids find intrinsic motivation in whatever they do. We are teaching them that they are just as talented as the work they are willing to put into it. We are teaching them that they can trust their judgement, and that it's okay for things to not always work out the way they expect. And we are showing them that their value, in our eyes, does not depend on the results they produce, but rather on who they are and the choices they make (in this case, the choice to work hard on that painting). And all the good stuff that goes into making a happy, wholesome, well-adjusted person!

The key takeaway is to focus on effort rather than results, and slowly, over time, more and more of our responses will be helpful to our children.

How to Praise Your Kids the Right Way Without Spoiling Them in the Process| A Fine Parent

Sumitha Bhandarkar is the creator of, a unique personal development blog exclusively for parents. If you're a parent who believes that good parents are made, not born; if you believe that modeling how to live right is far more effective (and fun!) than lecturing; if you're a do-er and not just a planner; click here to join Sumitha and a small group of like-minded parents.

Vilma Bonilla's insight:

Giving good, helpful feedback does not come naturally. It takes practice.

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Heading to work? Leave stress at the door.

Heading to work? Leave stress at the door. | Cultural Trendz |

Work-related stress is a fact of life. Everyone feels it at one time or another. And with 42 percent of workers saying workplace stress has driven them to a job change, according to a recent Monster poll, we’ve decided to uncover some ways to deal with stress once it hits.

Is it you or your job?

Alexandra Levit, author of “Blindspots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe,” says first, the stressed worker must identify the following: Is it me or is it my company or industry?

“Are you reacting to work or to life?” she says. “You want to assess whether you’re taking your own negative reactions and unproductive ways of coping with stress to the situation, especially if it’s your first [job].”

Levit says many industries — she uses the legal field as a good example — require a lot from employees, specifically the ones newest to the industry.

“People, especially in their first five years out of school, they don’t have balance,” she says. “Work is the top priority and that leads to a lot of stress.”

Levit suggests setting boundaries between work and life to the extent possible. And try to avoid being at the office or thinking about work 24/7 if you can.

‘Should’ is a bad word.

Work stress can at times be attributed to a mentality that the company or a worker’s superiors should be doing things differently.

For people thinking this way, Levit says: “Stop using the word ‘should.’”

“People get stressed out because they’re frustrated, they think things should be a certain way,” she says.

It’s important to reframe those thoughts, and to think about how you, as a worker, might be able to better operate under the circumstances.

“’It is what it is’ is one of my favorite sayings,” she says, adding that there’s a lot of truth in that seemingly dull workplace axiom.

Be prepared

Even if you realized the stress is attributable to you, and you’ve stopped saying “should,” odds are you’ll come up against a stressful situation on the job.

So get ahead of it, Levit says.

Levit, at a prior job, said she was put in charge of coordinating 300 media interviews with 150 executives at a press event.

“I wanted every single one of those interviews to happen,” she says, “but when you have that many moving parts it’s not going to be perfect.”

Prior to the event, she sat down with a friend to prepare. She and her friend built a hypothetical scenario where interviews were falling apart all around her. She developed a plan in case something that catastrophic happened.

“In your mind, it becomes much less threatening” when you make a plan, she says. “And when you find yourself in that situation it’s not as stressful.”

Get moving

Sometimes you just need to work it out physically. Levit says it’s important to get in the gym or go for a run outside whenever you can.

“Exercise really does decrease the stress response,” she says. “Even 20 minutes on the treadmill can make a big difference.”

Meditation works for some, but if it’s not for you, there’s always good old-fashioned deep breathing.

“If you force yourself, close your eyes and breath in and out 10 times, it’s amazing the difference it makes,” she says.

Vilma Bonilla's insight:

Stress is a driving factor in people’s job changes. This article provides guidance on how to stay stress free while at work.

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Why getting comfortable with discomfort is crucial to success

Why getting comfortable with discomfort is crucial to success | Cultural Trendz |

In an increasingly competitive, cautious and accelerated world, those who are willing to take risks, step out of their comfort zone and into the discomfort of uncertainty will be those who will reap the biggest rewards.

When I first left my parents’ small farm at eighteen to move to “the city” for college, I was part terrified, part excited, and completely outside my comfort zone. As I found then, and have countless times in the years since, no worthwhile aspiration can be accomplished from within our comfort zone.  Only in giving up the security of the known can we create new opportunity, build capability, and grow influence.  As we do, we expand the perimeter of our ‘Courage Zone’ and our confidence to take on bigger challenges in the future.

It’s a lesson that was reinforced in my interviews with accomplished leaders across a diverse range of fields while researching my latest book Stop Playing Safe. While each had forged their own path to success – either up an organizational ladder or as an entrepreneur – the common thread of wisdom they all shared was that in todays competitive and fast changing workplace, we can never hope to achieve success unless we’re willing to embrace change and risk the discomfort of failure. In short, we must be willing to get comfortable with the discomfort involved with taking risks.

One of those leaders was Lori Garver, who worked her way up in the male-dominated aerospace industry from an administrative assistant role to the Deputy Director of NASA.  Like so many other successful people, Lori has always been driven more by what inspires her than what scares her.  She’s always been willing to challenge assumptions, and push the boundaries of possibility. She’s never let her fear of not having what it takes keep her from stepping beyond the confines of her comfort zone and expanding her confidence to take risks, try new things, speak up and act with the courage that has been a hallmark of her leadership at NASA. While it’s easy to assume that Lori is covered with psychological Teflon, the reality is that along her road to success, she experienced numerous setbacks, along with her fair share of criticism.  She just hasn’t let her fear of it hold her back.

Throughout our careers we must continually assess whether we are letting our fear of failure or losing face keep us from taking the actions, and engaging in the conversations, that will move us forward and make the impact we want.  Again and again, we have to decide:

    Do I keep doing what’s always been done, or challenge old assumptions ad try new approaches to problems?
    Do I proactively seek new challenges or just manage those I already have?
    Do I risk being exposed and vulnerable, or act to protect my pride and patch of power?  
    Do I ask for what I really want, or just for what I think others want to give me?
    Do I ‘toot my horn’ to ensure others know what I’m capable of, or just hope my efforts will be noticed?
    Do I speak my mind or bite my lip, lest I ruffle feathers or subject myself to criticism?

Of course, being willing to take a risk doesn’t mean everything you try will work out.  But as every successful person will tell you, it’s only by being willing to make mistakes and try something new that you can ever accomplish more than what’s been done before.  As John F. Kennedy once said, “Nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished with a guarantee of success.” Nothing ever will be.

Too often we let our mistakes and setbacks define us. Yet, as Dr Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology once said, “It’s not our failures that determine our future success, but how we explain them to ourselves.”   Likewise, if you knew that no matter what happened, you could handle it, what actions would you take that you aren’t taking now? What conversations would you engage in that you’ve been putting off? Where would you step out onto center stage more fully and boldly in your own life – and in doing so, open up the possibility for new opportunities, new relationships, new alliances, new ideas to take bloom?

Caste your mind ahead ten years from now and think about the life you want to be living then. What do you want to be doing? With whom?  Who do you want to have become in the process?

Ten years from now there will be people who have achieved extraordinary success.  While we don’t know who they will be, one thing is sure  - they won’t be people who have stayed inside their comfort zone.  Rather, they will be people who have continued to stretch themselves, even when things are going smoothly, and who have  been willing to risk failure or looking foolish, knowing that the biggest risk they take is not taking any risks at all. The question is – will you be one of them?!

In our ever more cautious and competitive world, there is little security in playing safe.  Being willing to give up the familiarity of the known and embrace the discomfort that comes from being outside your comfort zone is increasingly crucial to your success in work and life.

Via Anne Leong, Jean-Philippe D'HALLUIN, Ivon Prefontaine
AlGonzalezinfo's curator insight, March 28, 4:24 AM

Great scoop by Anne Leong via via @anne_leong.  As a work with a number of clients and continue my own journey through this process, I find the questions listed extremely helpful!

Again and again, we have to decide:

  • Do I keep doing what’s always been done, or challenge old assumptions ad try new approaches to problems?
  • Do I proactively seek new challenges or just manage those I already have?
  • Do I risk being exposed and vulnerable, or act to protect my pride and patch of power?  
  • Do I ask for what I really want, or just for what I think others want to give me?
  • Do I ‘toot my horn’ to ensure others know what I’m capable of, or just hope my efforts will be noticed?
  • Do I speak my mind or bite my lip, lest I ruffle feathers or subject myself to criticism?
Brian Kirby's curator insight, April 1, 8:07 AM

Wow, those questions were not exactly "fun" to answer (especially rapidly and honestly). However, I have always been told that "If your dreams don't scare you, then they aren't big enough". This is something that I have lived my life by for quite some time now, and it definitely appears to be more than true... "If you are always comfortable, then you are never growing." It's worth some discomfort/fear in order to grow and reach goals! Thoughts? How tempting is it to stay under the umbrella of comfort? Is it worth it?

Brian Kirby's curator insight, April 1, 8:08 AM