Praising Kids – Is It A Good Thing?

Kids and Praise


Positive reinforcement. Positive psychology. Praise. Affirmation.

Popular parenting buzzwords. Drummed into us from Day One. Tell your kids how wonderful they are. Tell them they’re special, unique, can achieve anything.

Sounds good.

But are we ultimately setting them up for a fall?

The world – the nasty, real, complicated world Out There – doesn’t really care if your mother or father thinks you’re fabulous. ‘They’ will pass judgement on you based on the current social standards of the day. And those standards shift and move, morph and change.

The kids don’t stand a chance.

So what happens when they don’t get into the course they want, don’t get the job they apply for, don’t get the life they expected?

Does it hit them harder? How do they move on from their first rejection? How do they cope when the world doesn’t work like a pass-the-parcel where every child gets a prize?

Are we doing them a disservice not to prepare them for a world that may very well chew them up and spit them out? Should we prepare them for a life that may or may not go the way they want it to?

But what would happen if we didn’t praise them? What would happen if we told them what they do is average, ordinary or even sub-standard?

What would be the impact then?

And could we even do it, as a parent?

I know I couldn’t.

All of us just wants our kids to be happy. We don’t want them to feel pain or sadness. We want them to be able to follow their dreams and make their way in the world.

It’s just that the world doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.

So, we are torn. We make our children sad as children or we set them up for sadness in adulthood.

I honestly don’t have an answer. Like every parent, I’m trying to raise my kids without an instruction manual or a crystal ball.

My instincts tell me to do all I can to make them happy now. And I just hope, if I can raise confident, positive children, that they will weather whatever storms the world throws at them.

Hope. Hope and Love. That’s all we’ve got. And keep your fingers crossed.



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A Recalibration of Self


I am not a girly girl. Never have been. Never will be. And I’m fine with that. Well, I was…

I don’t like to wear dresses or skirts. Family legend has it that when I was a small child, another small child told me they could see my underpants when I was playing on the monkey bars. Apparently, I thereafter refused to wear a dress. Sticks and stones may break your bones but they heal pretty fast. Words last forever.

I don’t even remember the incident but it has formed who I am. My clothing modus operandi is jeans, sneakers and a geeky t-shirt.

It’s not that I have a pathological fear of wearing a dress. My parents didn’t have to drag me screaming from the house every day because my high school uniform was a dress or kilt. And I did wear one at my wedding. It’s just not my comfort zone.

Occasionally, I turn up to significant birthday parties or weddings not only in a dress but also the accompanying accoutrements of makeup, jewellery, high heels and (shudder) pantyhose. I don’t do it because convention states that I probably should. I do it to mess with people. Because that’s also who I am.

I have a theatre director who thinks I should wear dresses more often and so takes every opportunity when I am in a play to put me in one.

I’ve just finished a production in which I played a Police Inspector. Yes, I could have worn a skirt but this time I got my way and wore a pants suit. I also wore earrings, a silk scarf knotted at my neck and high heeled shoes.

Chatting with audience members after the show one night, someone asked if I was meant to be a man or a woman. “I thought you were a man but then I spotted the earrings so I was confused.”

Why, thank you so much.

I shrugged it off as tactless ignorance.

Until the same thing happened again on another night. This time they were confused because the Police Constable kept calling me “ma’am”.

Now, admittedly, I was playing a Police Inspector in a murder mystery ostensibly set in the 1950s, when female inspectors were rare. Admittedly, it was a part originally written for a man (when you can’t get enough male actors, you have to do what you have to do). Admittedly, I did stride onto the stage with all the authority of the Force. Admittedly, I was dressed in a suit.

But in 2014 are we really still stuck in such outdated gender perceptions? Do our minds, confronted with the image of someone in authority wearing trousers, still automatically assume the person must be a man?

It doesn’t help, of course, that men still dominate positions of authority in much of society and the media seem to represent women as either the sexy, buxom wench or the soft, pastel pink mother. I am neither so perhaps I confuse people.

Someone once even suggested that I try hypnotherapy to get over my fear of wearing dresses. As if a woman not wanting to wear a dress has some kind of mental illness.

But I did have to ask myself, if I can be mistaken for a man when wearing makeup, earrings and high heels, is this happening every day in my plain-faced, jeans-wearing life and I just didn’t know about it? Is it just me and not the role?

Isn’t it funny (or really not) how a casual comment can cause you to lose sight of yourself? To find yourself out of balance with who you thought you were?

So I’ve had to recalibrate. I’ve had to decide (again) who I am and who I am comfortable being.

And I’ve decided that no, I will not be buying a new wardrobe of filmy dresses and pink high heels. No, I will not be growing my hair long or putting on makeup every day. If for no other reason than I refuse to pander to outdated gender stereotypes.

I am not a girly girl. Never have been. Never will be. And I’m fine with that.

Postscript: I’d like to sincerely thank my fellow cast members who helped me see the ridiculousness of the situation and made me laugh every night with suggestions that I speak in a high-pitched voice, or say that I have to wrap up the case quickly because I have to get back to my knitting. It’s so much easier to find yourself again when you have friends to show you the way.



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The Meaning of Work and the Work of Meaning

It is generally agreed that long term, chronic and generational unemployment (where children grow up never seeing an adult get up and go to work) plays a large part in societal disadvantage and dysfunction. It is often trumpeted that if we could only get these people into some sort of work, all those problems would disappear. But does putting someone to work sweeping footpaths or stacking boxes really improve their sense of self? Perhaps for someone who has never held a job, the experience of earning a pay packet would indeed lift their self-esteem. But for those who have in the past experienced challenging and fulfilling work and now find themselves jobless, would any sort of work make them feel the same? I think the employment rate hides another societal issue – that of those employed but for whom work does not hold meaning.

Steve Jobs

Until very recently I was unemployed and had been for eight months. I voluntarily left a job that was family-friendly, reasonably flexible and, though low-paid, secure. It would seem an odd job to leave but it had little to challenge me and it was difficult to identify what difference I was making to the world.

I have a teaching qualification, long ago gained but never used. Having a background in mathematics and science I was assured by Those In The Know that these were highly sought-after subjects in the local high schools. So I took the gamble, left my job and launched myself into the world of Casual Relief Teaching.

Those In The Know were sadly misinformed. Thus the eight months  of unemployment.

What changed? I took another gamble. Friends working in the disability sector had for some time suggested I put my name down at the local school for children with intellectual disabilities, citing a desperate need for relief teachers. I had batted each suggestion away with the sense of dismissive ridiculousness it deserved. If I couldn’t gain employment in my area of expertise, what hope did I have in a sector for which I was woefully unqualified? However, unemployment (and its accompanying feelings of rejection) can give one an incentive to try even the most outrageous career choice.

Fortunately I had the opportunity to enter as a volunteer. It gave me the chance to experience the environment and what would be required with a ‘no harm, no foul’ get out clause.

I loved it.

Yeah, it surprised me too.


I’d made no secret as to my purpose for volunteering and once my stint was over, they were keen to move me into relief teaching. I was to undergo a number of days of induction, getting to know some of the classes. Halfway through my first induction day, I was asked if I was available to work the next day. And they’ve kept asking, so I must be doing something right.

Each day I go in, I feel like I’ve jumped out of an aeroplane without a parachute. I am on a steep learning curve (practically vertical) but I am thriving on the challenge. I feel once again the work I am doing is meaningful, not only because it is challenging and stretching me to my utmost ability limits but mostly because of the children themselves. They inspire me every single day and I highly value the opportunity to offer them the experiences and learning they deserve.

Any job can give you at least some sense of doing something productive with your time. It also conveniently puts food on the table. But a job that makes you feel like you are making a difference in the world is what turns working for a living into working for meaning.

It doesn’t mean you have to be vaccinating orphans in Africa or building shelters for the homeless or even working in special education. Whatever your work is, if it feels like more than just a job, if it gives you pleasure in the knowledge that you are having a positive influence on somebody’s life, it is a work of meaning. Perhaps you are the welcoming, smiling face at your local café, the only one a lonely old lady may see all day. Perhaps you take pride in keeping a school clean and tidy, knowing that you are contributing to a positive learning environment. Perhaps you bring the joy of music to people.

It doesn’t have to be ‘worthy’, it just has to matter.




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Life in the Fun Factory – How do we really see ourselves?

Do you ever feel like you live in a Fun Factory? You know, one of those ones with all the weird mirrors that make you look shorter, fatter or crazier than you actually are?


I know very few people who view themselves in a straight-up, this-is-how-it-really-is type of mirror. The ‘Love The Skin You’re In’ people. It’s hard not to envy them their honest and positive view of themselves.

Of course, the ones to really envy are those who live in a Fun Factory full of mirrors that make them look taller, thinner and more talented than perhaps they are. Such people exist. They must. It’s the only way to explain those excruciating audition episodes of TV talent shows.


The mirrors in my Fun Factory are highly distorted, if comments from friends are to be believed. Those friends all tell me I am someone I can’t see.

This is an ad for Dove in which they used a forensic artist to sketch a person’s face based firstly on their own description and then on the description from another person who had just met them. It seems many of us see ourselves in distorted mirrors.

The Dove ad deals with how we may see ourselves in a physical sense but I think it equally applies to how we see ourselves in our actions and our very being.

Someone recently told me I am very kind to people. I was a bit taken aback by that. Certainly, I always try to be kind but I know I fall short frequently – a selfish action, thoughtless words – and often I am trying to make amends for mistakes or to compensate for shortcomings that have caused hurt in the past. By my accountancy reckoning, I’ve still got a long way to go before ‘kind’ is in the black.

But perhaps our friends are our forensic artists. They are the ones who see us as others do and can reflect back to us what we cannot see ourselves. And they will be honest about it. True friends will, anyway.

It doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to accept what we are being told. When you are locked in the Fun Factory, surrounded by reflected images telling you otherwise and the only way out is through a maze of mirrors, it can be easier to believe what you see yourself than what others are telling you they see.

It’s not just self-deprecation or false modesty. It is a very real inability to see yourself as others do. The reasons why this is will be varied – sometimes obvious, sometimes mystifying. Always valid.

But maybe, just once in a while, we need to close our eyes, ignore the mirrors and listen to the trusted voices around us telling us what they see. And believe.

And then we should find our way out of the Fun Factory and go and ride the Ferris Wheel instead. The view from the top should make everything clearer.




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