“Mama picked me up, and we swirled and swirled ‘coz she was so happy I remembered to make my bed without being told.” “Jonathan’s Journal”

Jonathan was always a little pleaser. He received affirmation from six people who were older than he was: Mom, Dad, big brother (who waited ten years for this little brother—and told him so since he was a toddler), and three older sisters who were absolutely crazy about him. However, even with all of that potential affirmation floating around our home, we didn’t leave it up to chance. We purposely and frequently praised our children.

The excerpt above is about more than just praising preschoolers. It is about two aspects of praising our preschoolers that we often do not consider:

1. Making it possible for the child to please you without being told

2. Making your preschooler want to please you

The first aspect, making it possible for the child to please you without being told, is important in families in which Mom dictates every move the young child makes. I like to keep tight reins on the goings-on in our home. I want to be sure that everybody is doing what they are supposed to be doing—that homework is getting done and done well, that chores are completed, that time is used well, etc. However, I learned about a dozen years ago (another story for another time!) the importance of children being able to please us without being told. This builds initiative and responsibility that may not be built in mother-hovering situations.

This is actually a good argument for morning routine charts, chore charts, study schedules, etc. in that they put the child in control a little more. And the follow through of these tasks (without Mom checking on each step) provides opportunity for the child to please us—without being told each move to make.

That leads us to number two: set things up in such a way that your preschooler wants to please you. Preschoolers are pleaser by nature anyway (providing they haven’t been spoiled and indulged to the point that the sweet, natural pleasing side of them has been stripped by self-absorption at an early age). When we genuinely praise preschoolers, they often want to please us more and more.

Some of you might be thinking that all of this “pleasing” isn’t the best thing for children. We have found that our world provides enough opportunity to be selfish—no amount of focusing on others is going to hurt our children in the least! If we develop the habit of young children submitting to authority and desiring to do what is right in the early years, we will have a better chance of continuing that type of behavior and attitude later.

I will leave you with four aspects of praising preschoolers today:

1. Give genuine praise, not flattery. When Jonathan was “swirled and swirled,” he knew I meant it. My words were not just flattery or passing thoughts. While flattery WILL often work on preschoolers, it is not advisable. They need our sincerity and genuineness, just like our older children do.

2. Praise for good character. Obedience. Kindness. Responsibility. “Stick-tu-a-tive-ness.” Diligence. Completeness. Reliability. These are things that matter in life—as a preschooler doing chores, as a teen doing school work, and as an employee at work.

3. Use biblical affirmations when appropriate. Obviously, we do not recommend that you use the Bible as a weapon (“don’t you know where liars go?”), but for positive affirmations, it is fitting. For example, we taught our children verses like “do your work as unto the Lord,” “do not be slothful,” “be diligent like the ant,” etc.

4. Public praise is worth twice as much. Our preschoolers loved to be praised in front of their siblings! They loved for us to tell them good things about them at the dinner table, in front of grandparents, etc.

What if “Johnny” didn’t do such a hot job on his morning routine and, quite frankly, doesn’t deserve to be “swirled and swirled”? Starting tomorrow, we will discuss childishness versus willfulness for a few days. While this is not a “preschool-only” topic, we think it is important in knowing how to handle disobedience, forgetfulness, etc. in all ages—and will aid in our discussion of parenting preschoolers. So spread the word—PP 365 is going to diverge for a few days and focus on childishness versus willfulness in all ages of children.


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