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There’s a fine, but definite, line between pride and admiration

I just read your article and enjoyed it very much. I was one of those whose parents were not ashamed to admire me. They convinced me that I was the best or at least very close to being the best — and I was. Consequently, I had no real reason to push myself. This was compounded by the fact that almost everything came easily to me. Imagine the shock I received when I went to the Air Force Academy and found that I was much closer to the bottom — and almost there.

Anyway, one thing I noticed was your comment about your child on the bicycle. The child was “pedaling.” If he/she was “peddling,” then they are trying to sell the bicycle.

— P.J.S., Las Vegas

Well, let’s begin where you left off: pedaling and peddling. Give me a moment to wipe the egg, er, omelet, off my face as well as pick the bacon bits out of my hair. Yikes. I suppose you’d see through me if I tried to tell you the spelling was deliberate: just my regular, monthly test of my editors, who failed miserably. Or, how about this: I was diagnosed as “homonym-challenged” in the third grade. It’s not my fault. There are no medications for that disability.

OK, no need for you to sit there, listening to me pedal excuses. I mean PEDDLE excuses. I screwed up. Nice call. I admire your quick mind and keen eye.

I appreciated your letter for another reason, too. It pushes the discussion to another level. It tells me there was something not clarified in the original column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/steven-kalas/admiring-those-who-admire-themselves-ok).

The mother of my children is a brilliant educator, with a specialty in Early Childhood Development. It was she who taught me the important difference between encouragement and praise. Praise is “You’re wonderful!” … or “You’re the best!” Encouragement is “I believe in you!” … or, “I know you can do it.” When your child aces a test and comes home beaming, praise is, “You are so smart!” Encouragement is, “Of course you aced it! You studied every night for a week!” … or, “Doesn’t it feel great?”

My kids’ mom is not saying praise is necessarily damaging to children, just that parents would do well to keep the proportions decidedly in favor of encouragement. This forges in our children a self-respect that is truly born of self. That is, it is not a respect “borrowed” from our parents’ respect of us. Encouragement teaches children how to recognize — in and for themselves — what is worthy of respect, pride and praise.

In short, I wouldn’t want my children forever dependent on what I think of them. Dependent upon whether I’m proud of them. Always living in some kind of anxiety that they might disappoint me. Encouragement liberates children from such “relational fusion.” And it hangs the “albatross” of responsibility for a happy, productive, satisfying life around the neck of the child — where it belongs!

It might seem strange, but one way I would measure whether I’m ultimately doing my job as a good father would be that my children would know how and when to say, “Papa, I don’t care what you think.” I would hope they would say it politely, but still.

I am so proud of all my children. But I’m careful how I articulate that pride. After all, it is pride. And my pride tempts me to shine their light back on to me. To steal their thunder. So, as often as possible, I indulge my pride privately. Or I gush about them to others. I think my kids get a lot more out of, “You must be so proud of yourself,” than “I’m so proud of you.”

What I do not censor, however, is admiration. It’s my favorite thing to say: “I admire you, boy.” And I can say that when it’s time to celebrate a victory. And I can say that when it’s time to face defeat. And I can say that when they “man up” to a mistake or a moral failure.

Admiration isn’t “You’re wonderful!” … or, “You’re the best.” Admiration, in a nutshell, is The Wow. Like when you step outside and see a beautiful sunset. Like when you respect the mystery. Like when you pause at your child’s bedroom door and watch them sleep for a moment. And you say exactly what you feel: “Wow.”

Pride comes from a place of pride. Admiration comes from a place of humility.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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