In hopes of instilling confidence in their children, many parents dole out praise that focuses on the child's achievements and image. You're so smart. You're so pretty. Your hair is amazing. You can get into Harvard. You run so fast. The praise is all positive, but clinical psychologist and parenting author Dr. Shefali Tsabary says that doesn't send kids the right message.
The trouble with this type of praise, Dr. Shefali says, is that it is fear-based, meaning that these words carry with them an undertone suggesting that anything having to do with the opposite is disappointing.
"We think we're being positive, but... 'No, no, you're not ugly! You're not fat!' [is] fear-based. We need to go into abundance-based, which is, 'Accept who you are. You are more than your prettiness or your ugliness or your fatness,'" Dr. Shefali tells a group on parents on "Oprah's Lifeclass." "We are more than the form. This is the message we need to give our children. They are more than the 'doing.'"
Another danger with this type of misguided praise is that it ties the child's worth to a qualitative aspect. So, what happens when the thing they are being praised for disappears or falls out of their reach? Children crumble.
"If we tie [children] into some qualitative aspect of doing and then that doesn't manifest -- all our hair falls out, we become really fat, our legs get severed, who knows? -- then, does that mean the self dies?" Dr. Shefali poses. "The self is eternal. It is more than the 'doing' aspects of life."
To help emphasize this teaching in children, Dr. Shefali encourages parents to shift their perspective and focus on a more conscious approach that isn't rooted in fear or the fierce urge to protect children from life's inevitable hardships.
"We believe that the Harvard [education] or the pretty face or the rich husband is going to inoculate them from the struggle of life," Dr. Shefali says. "There's no escaping the struggle of life. But we can teach our children to embrace that, within that struggle, is their strength. Within that struggle is the light."