Q: I notice that you often mention complimenting children as a way to motivate them to improve how they behave. I find it too insincere when you have to “search” for something when they’re not really at their best behavior. I feel like it’s almost superficial flattery, and as parents, we’re not being role models of honesty. My wife disagrees with me and feels that our children constantly need to be praised. What’s an honest “appraisal” of this issue?
A: Verbally praising all family members raises the potential of each individual. One cannot underestimate the value of such praise on a daily basis. The power of dibbur actually affects a person’s potential in a positive way.
According to Chabad Chassidus (Likutei Sichos, Vol. 27) one needs to continually give words of praise to fellow Jews in order to awaken the actual good within them. This idea can be understood when we look at Parashas Emor. Emor means “to say”; in grammar, it has the form of present tense and command tense, as if to say that whatever it is that Emor is teaching us (and the word Torah is from the expression to teach), the utterance is a constant and desirable one. The teaching is that when saying positive, uplifting words, the words themselves carry the power of bringing out the positive aspects of a person and help him overcome any negative traits. By stressing the good, we cause the negative to become less and less until it eventually disappears and one’s identity becomes a positive and constructive one.
If one will truly contemplate the good points of a fellow Jew (even if generally he may be viewed as appearing evil), we will see that he has many mitzvos to his credit and deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt, and to be considered in a positive light. We are actually assisting him to improve himself, as our positive vision and words to describe this person are elevating his potential. Thus, in a similar vein, by our looking at the unique and special goodness of each family member, we can assist in his or her spiritual development.
Certain parents may find it difficult to continually praise their children, as they may have received a more European upbringing, one that stresses what is missing in each child. “Where’s the two points on this test to make it 100 percent?” is a statement many of us may have been accustomed to hearing. Yet this generation finds such messages generally unhelpful; they make a child feel “never good enough.” We need to realize that our children can easily receive praise and encouragement from the secular society around them, which continually stresses “positive vibes and feeling good.” Our children need to find this sense of “feeling good” in our own homes and schools, and not look elsewhere for fulfillment of this need. Due to great competition in society at large, a person can easily feel dejected and second-class in different circumstances. Thus, it is even more essential to verbalize praise to help children re-evaluate themselves in a positive manner and envision a hopeful future.