Empowering Children Part 2: Purpose Driven Praise

Want honorable virtues to live within your children?  Here’s how.

He was about nine years old and in the race of his life as a third grader. His classmates were at his heels as they rounded the track towards the finish line. Arms pumping, lungs busting, pain and determination were written on all of their faces because this was the finals, the championship round. His first place grit was obvious and the look in his eyes spoke of his will as he led the pack; until he heard the thud from behind along with the gasp from the crowd. As he made the final turn into the straightway to the finish line, he was able to see his classmate from over his left shoulder. He was a known introverted student who transferred from out of state with no established social groups, and he always ate his lunch by himself. He was lying face down, crying, and once again, alone.

The young man in first place was fueled by all the cheers from the teachers, student body, and his parents; however, he pulled off the dirt track, onto the grass, and ran back to his fallen classmate. The shock and awe of the moment filled the stands with quiet, until the other runners passed the finish line.

Undaunted by the moment, the nine year old picked his classmate up to his feet, placed his right arm around his back, and walked with him to the finish line. Can you hear the crowd as they crossed the line? I sure did, and I wasn’t even there in person. I was sitting at my desk as I finished reading the article, my eyes could not hold back the tears. This wasn’t good because I was in my police uniform, about to patrol the high school campus during their lunch break, and my personal bravado had been punctured by this boy’s act of kindness. At this moment, I was grateful for my blue tinted mirrored sunglasses.

That afternoon as I walked the campus, kindness was on my heart and it’s what I was looking for in others. It’s amazing what you’ll see when you’re truly looking for it specifically. Having this demeanor, which might be perceived as the polar opposite to law enforcement’s vigilance, created a filter that syphoned out the majority of the juvenile mischief you’d usually witness because it’s so common on a school campus.

I started seeing those kids who opened doors for each other, staff, and even students they didn’t know. Some even picked up other’s trash and threw it away without an expectation of a “Thank you.” While I walked through the halls, I saw some students listening to a friend in need and offering encouragement. In other words, I saw a humanity I liked. One in which I wanted to live with, fight for, and model for others, especially my sons.

I’ve always found it interesting how people respond to little acts of kindness. Want to test it out? Open the door for anyone, anywhere, and gently smile as they pass through. Most are grateful for it, some are ignorant of it, and a tiny percentage might be annoyed by it; regardless, kindness is king in regards to the human heart in my opinion.

Since becoming a School Resource Officer in 2014, I have taught over three hundred parents the parenting tactics from the program Parent Project©. Needless to say, one of the greatest questions a parent has is, “How do I change my child’s behavior from this, to this?” The first part of Parent Project’s answer is: praise them for the desired behavior, especially if you want them to repeat it.

However, a parent needs to be wise in the art or praising their children. Many parents who were raised in a time where only the champion received a trophy understands the value of such a reward. It was a form of praise for an accomplishment achieved through hard work, not just participation. The important key here is this: when we praise our children, make sure it constructs their character versus being a source of superficial flattery.

Smart parents understand this difference. It’s absolutely important to complement our kids on how they combed their hair, dressed, or how they performed in an event. We all love small strokes to our egos and their value is important.

“Many know how to flatter, few know how to praise.”

– Wendell Phillips

Nevertheless, PURPOSE DRIVEN PRAISE is all about character development. It’s understanding what we expect of our children by the time they mature into an adult.  It’s our goal for them based on our home’s virtues.  Parents are the most important appraisers of our children’s behavior, conceptualizing their virtues through adoration when we see it, or learn about it.  I can’t help but wonder if that nine year old boy misses his sacrificed gold medal.  I highly doubt it.  I also wonder how his parents had influenced the tenderness in his heart, even during such a competitive and self-focused event. No doubt that young boy received a greater reward: praises from a crowd who admired his act of kindness, the loving embrace from his parents, and the value of a new friend.

Want honorable virtues to live within your children?  Here’s how:

Purpose Driven Praises

Remember, praise a character based behavior you want repeated.  It’s far easier to encourage a desired behavior than it is to correct an unwanted one. Although there are several virtues you’ll want to praise, I recommend you start with these two:

Gratefulness: Ever felt joy for an ungrateful person? Neither have I.  Teach your child when to simply say, “Thank you” and then praise them for their acts of appreciation. Regardless of the deed, the price of a gift, or level of effort by another, teach them to be grateful of all acts of kindness towards them and others.

Why? When we develop this appreciation in our children, they begin to learn about the costs, sacrifices, and efforts others make for their benefit and enjoyment. Being grateful is being respectful.  It’s a boomerang of kindness that will come back to them when they are willing to express it themselves. Try it on a United Stated veteran and you’ll see what I’m talking about…after all, aren’t you grateful for your freedoms? Teach your children the virtue of appreciation, it’s a gift returned to others money can’t buy!

Kindness: When you witness your child conduct the smallest act of love towards another, praise them immensely! There’s a difference between a house and a home. Love is the difference, and it starts with the parents.  A child who learns about kindness understands the value of little acts of love, and how they affect others.  It can sound as simple as this, “My son, I love your heart!  Thanks for being that type of guy!”  They’ll know what you mean.

Why? Do you want your child to be friendly, generous, and considerate to you and others? Is a loving and compassionate heart an important aspect of your child’s moral compass?  As kindness grows in their thoughts and words, it leads into their actions and habits; ultimately manifesting itself into your child’s character.  It arguably could be the greatest inheritance a parent could give their children.

Remember this Mom and Dad: You can praise your children’s acts of virtue all day long; however, the greatest model they have to follow is your example.  Show them what kindness and gratitude are all about. Open those door for people, pick up others’ trash, thank someone who deserves it.  You are the difference and you are their leader.

My wife and I will never forget the day we saw our youngest son, who was nine at the time, walk up to an elderly man at a Wendy’s© restaurant.  The gentleman was wearing a World War II Veteran hat and he was sitting alone.  My son politely interrupted his meal, thanked him for his service and shook his hand. The Veteran and my son exchanged a small and friendly conversation for a few minutes and then stated their goodbyes. The Veteran’s smile, as well as our son’s smile, said it all as we watched our son walk back to us.  All I said was, “Thank you, my son,” as I placed my hand on his shoulder. He knew what I meant.

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

– John Bunyan

Next Steps

  • Educate yourself about social media and how to intervene in your child’s digital world if necessary.
  • We speak to parents at schools throughout the United States. Find a class near you or find out how to bring a seminar to your child’s school.
  • Read the definitive guide for online safety for families, Parenting in the Digital World. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our newsletter.
  • Install Bark on your child’s phone. Bark will passively monitor your child’s social media and let you know if there is a problem. Use the promo code, “cybersafetycop” to get 15% off.

About the author:

Michael Woodroof is a Cyber Safety Cop instructor and teaches all of the classes offered by Cyber Safety Cop. He began his law enforcement career in 2003 as a Deputy Sheriff for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.  He has served as a School Resource Officer, Community Drug Education Instructor, GRIP (Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership) Deputy, school threat assessment team member, and as a Sergeant in the Custody Operations Command.

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Kellie Pendergest