Growing up, my parents never gave me false praise that I was good at something when I clearly wasn't. Let's take piano, for example. I did not take to the keys naturally, and my parents never nudged me into doing it by saying things like, "Oh, if you keep trying, you'll get the hang of it!" Obviously, they didn't tell me I sucked at playing the piano or other various activities, but now that I'm an adult, I can certainly appreciate the fact that they never misled me with false hope of a career as a pianist.
When I was around 8, my parents enrolled my twin brother and I into Summer tennis lessons. I nagged my mom into letting us attend so I could hang out with my best friend all Summer. She had already been playing tennis for a year, though. So, on that first day when my brother and I showed up to the sweltering tennis courts, she killed me. My best friend and other kids our age easily slammed tennis balls over the other side of the net. Time after time, I remember just staring at the yellow ball as it jumped past me on the green court. I didn't hit one.
I felt discouraged. But as a little girl who played various other sports and handled myself just fine against my three brothers in the backyard, I kept going. I showed up every week and did my best, but honestly, I was terrible at it. And after every lesson, my mom wouldn't shower me with fake praise or even gentle encouragement. She didn't really say anything. And this never hurt my feelings — I realized quickly enough that tennis wasn't my sport.
While I desperately wanted to play a sport with my best friend, thanks to my parents, I never forced it. It wasn't a natural fit for me, and that was OK. Throughout high school, my best friend kept killing it on the tennis court while I shone on the soccer field. Our friendship still stands strong to this day despite the fact that we didn't play any sports together. And I'm thankful my parents never pushed me to do something I was bad at. Instead, they applauded me for things that I had a natural knack or passion for, which helped me determine what I actually cared about.
Instead of tennis or even piano, I excelled at basketball and soccer. Instead of calculus, my writing flourished. My parents knew intuitively where to nudge me in the right direction, and always complimented me when my performance deserved it. And now that I'm a parent myself, I'm going to do my best to mimic what my parents did. So I'm going to enroll my own children into lots of different activities to see where they flounder and where they flourish. And if they stumble, I won't give them any false praise, either.
Once my kids find their sport, instrument, or other activity that they excel at and love doing, that's when I'll praise them. I'll be their biggest cheerleader — I'll use a megaphone if I can. But until then, I'm going to sit back, watch, and praise my children when they truly deserve it.