Expose kids to reality gradually to avoid learning the hard way - like Forrest Gump on the bus.

Is this the real life?

There are two distinct realities that children are exposed to and need to balance, or rather, we need to help them balance:

1. True reality as we know it with all its applicable rules and consequences
2. Imagined reality or pretend-play

Pretend play is great, it removes all limitations that come with real life. There are no rules in pretend-play. Walnuts can be soldiers, apples can be castles, the child can be the princess, the family dog a mighty horse. This is great - it teaches abstract thinking, freedom and creativity.

True reality on the other hand requires discipline and imposes limitations. Engaging with true reality builds self-confidence. Not playing by adult rules, cheating and getting served everything on a silver platter does not teach self confidence.

As with so many things, reality is all about balance; certain situations are perfect for pretend-play, others require that children obey the rules of "true" reality.

Bending the rules in any play setting is perfectly OK. The trouble comes when children demand that rules be bent in situations that warrant "playing by the rules".

When playing a board game, for example, we all agree on a set of rules and play by them. Don't let your child change the rules all the time (cheat). If the game is too hard or complicated for his or her age then play a different game. Another example: don't teach your child to ride a bicycle with support wheels and make her believe that she knows how to ride a bicycle. Either make her understand very clearly that she only knows how to ride a bicycle with support wheels or teach her to ride a real bicycle. Here's another example: my dad played chess with me often on Sunday afternoons. I never once won - simply because he is a better, more experienced player. I came close to winning a few times and it gave me a boost to try even harder. I am now a good chess player and because I wasn't allowed to win sometimes and not other times I never felt that I am somehow priviliged to demand an unfair win.

Over-praising

Praising for mediocre (or bad) performance will not build self confidence at all - it builds false self confidence and spoils kids. I hear so many parents praising their children out loud for tying their shoes, for cleaning up their rooms, for brushing their teeth, for eating dinner and for all sorts of trivial activities. "Good job!" - why exactly? Because lil' monkey put on a hat in the winter? If you praise for non-accomplishments your children will come to expect praise for everything, for smaller and smaller achievements until you find yourself saying "Well done!" each time they blink. Oh, and what if you forget to say "Well done!" each time they blink? You're either facing a tantrum and/or a big blow to your child's self-confidence - "Am I not good anyomore? Why isn't mommy telling me I'm doing well?" Over-praised kids are also worse performers since they don't need to accomplish much to get great compliments. There is no need for them to thrive to be better at anything if they are told that they are doing so well already. You can read a little more about praising on the page about eating habits.

Also, each time you praise you evaluate, you qualify actions to be great, above average. Evaluation is a form of judging. Over-praised kids therefore feel that they are being judged constantly. Would you like to be judged constantly?

So instead of praise, narrate, ask questions, show interest, describe feelings.

For example: Your son shows you a drawing that looks like the dog painted it. Some parents say "nice work!" without even paying much attention to the drawing. Instead, you could say things like: I see you like drawing pictures of mommy and daddy holding hands. Look! Daddy's head is so big - he must be special to deserve a big head on your picture. Is it going to rain soon from those clouds? How did you paint that doggy? (try not to ask "why" too much).

So, don't praise at all? No! There is plenty of time for praise! When your child achieves something worthy of praise then don't hold back - make him feel he is the centre of the universe and let him know how well he's doing!

If you find a good balance between praise and non-praise your kids will grow up to be confident with a healthy self-esteem and will continute to strive to be better in all areas throughout their lives.