There’s been a lot of discussion on the dangers of over-praising children and on creating adults with a sense of entitlement. But just because we shouldn’t tell our children that they are simply brilliant at everything they do doesn’t mean that we can’t support their dreams. Perhaps they want to represent their country in some way or maybe they want to be the Prime Minister or a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Younger kids dream of being in the police force or on stage. Whatever their dream, what’s the best way to support them?
For really young children, it’s easy to respond with something like: Wow – a fireman, that would be great or I can see you in green and gold. Parents know that little kids change their mind from week to week, so support is often in the simple form of an encouraging smile.
When they are in Primary School, their dreams can stay fixed for a period. They can be really focused on the idea of being a ballet dancer or a Hollywood star. We need to resist the urge to warn them that stardom is not all it’s cracked up to be or that their genetic makeup may limit their future as a dancer. Instead, talking about their dreams is a wonderful opportunity to bond. Questions such as: Why do you love ballet? What do you think life in Hollywood would be like? Who do you look up to? allow us to get to know our children who are growing up so quickly. At the same time they get the message that we care about them and we love hearing about their dreams.
Adolescence is the time when we want to really start teaching important life lessons. But again, we want to be careful not to crush their dreams and their confidence as a result. When they express that they want to swim in an Olympics or write a prize winning novel, we don’t need to point out how hard those goals are to achieve. If they say they want to be a doctor and their grades don’t seem to be heading in the right direction, it’s tempting to try to manage their expectations. When a teenager chats about what they want to do with their life, we can grab the chance to talk about setting smaller goals on the way to achieving dreams. Asking them what they think they need to do to make their dream a reality is a fabulous way to show support without over-praising.