I’ve always wanted my daughter to be able to shine and feel good about her personal accomplishments, and so, like many parents who put their children into copious amounts of activities, I too have done that for my 7-year-old. She has tried soccer, tennis, piano, and competitive dance. In the academic arena, I have placed her in multiple summer school courses and I have her doing extra reading, writing, math, and even some educational documentaries thrown in for good measure. My hope was that her involvement in these activities would make her well-rounded and build her self-esteem.
But, what if I am creating a “cocky” kid?
Recently at my daughter’s Open House she was showered with praise for how well she had been doing in school, but her teacher also told us that she was being bossy with the other kids and sometimes acting in a “superior” manner toward them. When she was asked about it, she said, “Well, I’m smarter than they are.”
I wanted to crawl into a hole…but, she is 7 and this was a “teaching moment.” I did the proper parenting thing and explained that firstly, she is not smarter than they are, and that while she might know more about a particular subject, there will always be people who know more than she does. But, more importantly, it is unkind to treat people like they are less than we are, because we know how much it hurts us when we are treated poorly.
I started to analyze the situation and kept in mind that we, as Jews, are supposed to treat people with loving kindness. And this doesn’t just mean helping the poor or giving tzedakah, but also treating people with respect and considering how one’s personal attitude and effort are demonstrated to the people around them. Torah teaches us to be humble, but I am as guilty as many parents are in over-complimenting what my daughter has been accomplishing, therefore leading her to care more about personal accolades and less about being kind to others.
In an effort to show her that being kind to our fellow human beings is more important, I have opted to give her more praise when she helps someone else. And I blast her with praise all over social media (and show her that I have done it) when she does charitable things to help those who are less fortunate. I encourage her grandparents to compliment her on helping others at least as much–and hopefully more–than when she does well at a dance competition or gets 100% on a spelling test. Thankfully, I have started to see her good nature come back towards younger children and even received a good report from her teacher about her helping (versus bossing) some of her fellow students in class.
Praising her accomplishments and giving her the opportunities to shine are going to help make her a success, but praising her kindness and building on the helpful and humble nature that has always been inside her will make her a better person. And I have not done my job as her parent if I haven’t shown her that being a better person is the ultimate accomplishment.