Parenting Honestly


One of the most important skills that our kids need to learn while growing up is to accurately assess themselves. Sadly, we parents often wind up thwarting our kids’ ability to do this with well-meaning, yet inaccurate encouragements. Consider what happens for the child who is told they had a great piano recital after having to restart their piece three times. Or the kid whose parent says they were MVP of the playoff game after dropping two fly balls and striking out three times.

More helpful responses to disappointing situations are either to talk honestly about how the experience went or to ask your child how they think it went. Listen carefully to your child’s ability to accurately self-assess. Do they inflate their performance? Do they rate it lower than they ought? Helping our kids learn to assess is a great gift to them and prepares them for life. Here are some examples of not so helpful and helpful things to say to kids from Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids.

Not so helpful (p. 171):

  • “Everyone likes you.”
  • “Our divorce won’t change the holidays.”
  • “You can be anything you want!”

Helpful (p. 174)

  • “Yes, your sister is better than you at playing the piano.”
  • “Fourth chair clarinet seems pretty accurate for your playing ability right now.”
  • “At church you seem less confident with your friends….how do you see it?”

Parents want so much for their kids to feel good about themselves that they say things that confuse their child’s understanding of their own skills and talents. And, on a deeper level, parents often miss how much their own anxiety is driving them to falsely prop up their kids. Parents fear that their children cannot handle being average or sad about a performance because they aren’t sure they can handle seeing their child suffer. After making the season-ending last out during playoff game, my son said, “I made a couple of the best plays of my season this game and then I made some bad plays, including the last out.” I was sorely tempted to pump him up about all of the good plays and ignore or diminish how painful making the last out was. But when I looked at the evidence, he was actually right. He’d had some highs and lows that game and he saw it clearly. He wasn’t overly down on himself and he wasn’t denying anything. I had to do the work of soothing myself so that he could have the experience of unhindered accurate self-assessment.

The work we parents must do to allow our kids to grow in this type of wisdom really is a deep work of faith and trust. Will our kids be ok if they are disappointed, average, or downright bad at some things? My husband’s spiritual director once challenged him with the question, “is Jesus enough for your kids?” What will help you allow your kids to know the truth about themselves?

To read my review of Gist, click here.


  1. My temptation would be to say, “you are doing a good job of seeing what you are doing well and where you need to improve.” Not sure if that is helpful or more propping up! I guess it depends.

  2. Even as I read this I cringe thinking about being more honest with my child (who is two…ha!) It does seem like our culture has taught us to focus on building confidence and self-esteem rather than resiliency. It’s an over-simplified sentiment but no wonder we have so many anxious children and youth in our midst: they have not been shown that they can do less than “AMAZINGLY!!” and be OK and in constantly rushing to throw a safety net under their feelings, we adults inadvertently and unintentionally send the message that less than “AMAZING!!” is unacceptable. As always, thank you for helping pique and grow our curiosity!

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