How to Raise Your Kids to be Great Citizens: CHANGE the way you praise


Visual oxymoron…

Yesterday, JTR shared  a video in which a liberal Democrat borrowed religious language to ask God to bless and further the abortion agenda. Surely this was the ultimate oxymoron!  Now, I have no way of knowing whether she was being ironic. She appeared to be perfectly sincere, and quite unaware of how bizarre and contradictory she sounded to a Christian who is pro-life.

As I thought about this, I began to wonder whether conservative God-fearers sometimes borrow the rhetoric and values of the secular world, perhaps without even knowing it.

  • We may nod our heads when we hear the phrase, “In the world but not of it;”
  • we may tap our toe in time to “This world is not my home, I’m only passing through;”
  • we may hang up a plaque that reads, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;”
  • we may think we are raising our children to be God-fearing, devout and humble.

But. Are we really?

I just watched a new installment in the video lecture series, Prager University.  My brother introduced this web channel to me, and he has linked several of Dennis Prager’s lectures on this blog. Yesterday’s address was a bit different. It was delivered by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.  Here it is–about 4 minutes long:

(***For the entire transcript, go HERE***)

His premise is simple:

We tend to praise our children for

  • scholastic achievement;
  • athletic prowess;
  • artistic talent;
  • and (mostly for girls), looks.

He contends that we could immediately and exponentially make a positive change in our families, communities and society-at-large by doing one thing: reserving our highest praise for our children when they perform acts of kindness. Why will this make such a difference? Because we will raise a generation of children whose

“…self-esteem will come more from their goodness than from anything else.”

What the Rabbi doesn’t quite spell out is that when we give our highest praise to achievements, we breed pride and competition, and a sense that people are valuable mainly for their accomplishments. We want our children to  value and respect all life–but when we neglect to teach that respect, or when we fail to praise them highly when they show it, we really are not being pro-life, are we?

kindnessThis idea that we should praise EVERY child’s integrity, courage, kindness, and honesty above all is powerful. This means that children who are not above-average in any other way can still excel in something which is vitally important.

This resonated with me because of a little girl for whom I babysat for several years. Cissy (not her real name) will never be the smartest, fastest or prettiest girl in her class. But what I remember most about her is best illustrated by one of her birthday parties I attended. Some of the girls invited were ill-mannered,  temperamental, jealous of the party-girl’s attentions to others. But Cissy modeled decorum and sweetness through it all. When it was time to open gifts, she took time to look carefully at each one, to sincerely thank the giver and tell them why she appreciated their present. I was so impressed. Diplomats could have taken lessons from her gracious manner–and she was eight years old at the time.


As a Christian, I would add a couple of thoughts to the Rabbi’s lecture. First of all, while he assures his audience that we should still praise our children’s accomplishments and talents, I would suggest saying things like this:

  •  “God has given you an excellent mind!”
  •  “You are so gifted in music–that’s a wonderful way to worship God, isn’t it?”
  • “God has graced you with stamina and speed. When you train hard to be the best you can be, you honor Him for His gift to you.”

And if we sincerely believe that “this world is not our home” then we will always remind our children that their conduct in the world is more important than their achievement, because as Christians their most important  job is to become more and more like Jesus.

Jerryl Kain, “Becoming Christlike”

And while I agree with the Rabbi that we want our young people to grow up getting satisfaction and happiness from their own integrity and goodness, we don’t want them to become prideful in the process. There are plenty of folks who feel no need of God, saying, “Hey, I’m a good person”–and they are, in the world’s sense. That doesn’t mean they’re good enough for a perfect God.

In fact, He’s made it pretty clear that that isn’t possible. Here’s just one example:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
     there is no one who understands;
     there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.

…But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. “

–Romans 3:22-24 (NIV)

So along with praising our children for their good character, we must find ways to instill in them the humility which knows that ultimately they cannot please God without first acknowledging their need for a Savior.

Then we will be raising GREAT citizens for two worlds:  this one, and the next.

Heaven and earth

12 responses to “How to Raise Your Kids to be Great Citizens: CHANGE the way you praise

  1. Outstanding and thought provoking. In a world where sports are king and vanity is its queen, to teach our children humility and respect seems old- fashioned. Well then, old-fashioned it will be. I congratulate my son for making the select soccer team but when he recited an entire passage of Scripture as part of his Awana year, my heart swelled with pride. These are truly the things we must award our children for.
    Great piece; thanks from sharing and have a great Sunday.

    • Thank you, Libslayer. In some cases, we will have to be more intentional about “catching our kids doing good”…but what great seed we are sowing when we do. I appreciate your encouragement!

  2. Beautiful article. I have been saying for years that the real problem in our society is an underlying disrespect for human life. It seems like that applies across the board too. It absolutely has to begin and end with the individual if it is to ever change!

    • Absolutely, Miss Wendee. That’s why I was so struck by the simplicity of the Rabbi’s insights. It really is not that difficult to teach a child to value goodness. But we have to model it, and give the child lots of OTHER good role models, too. That’s one great argument against public schools…while we’d love the troubled kids to learn good habits from those who have been well taught at home–we know that it is much easier to catch bad habits than good ones. But of course, if the TEACHERS are effectively rewarding good character in the classroom, that can have a profound impact as well. Thanks for reading, and for commenting.

  3. Thanks GBL, I will certainly monitor my compliments to those in my life more closely. Kind and good acts are always praise worthy.

  4. Great post with much to think about.

  5. “And if we sincerely believe that “this world is not our home” then we will always remind our children that their conduct in the world is more important than their achievement, because as Christians their most important job is to become more and more like Jesus.”

    Excellent post. Our culture has turned from God because the nation’s children have turned from Him.

    • It’s so easy to get complacent about our kids’ moral character, and focus on the more tangible things like grades and trophies and medals. Scary, really, that Christians so quickly lose sight of what is essential.

      Thanks for reading, tannngl, and for commenting.

  6. He’s really made a great point. I’ve been teaching for about 30 years and right now I’m sick of saying”Good Job”. We’ve gone to the other extreme in saying good job for everything the kid does. Doing this only makes the child do good for the sake of hearing someone praise him rather than developing that good feeling when you know in your heart that you’ve done a “GOOD JOB”! You can sing a child’s praise in other ways other than saying good job. Thanks for playing with so and so today. He had no one to play with. Your picture is lovely. How nice of you to let them sit by you. What about the kid who tries so hard and can’t get a good grade?

    • Thank you for your perspective as a teacher, Daisy! I’m sure that, in the midst of all the testing which is required, it is more challenging than ever to focus on character–but also more and more vital for the children!

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