My father’s generation had a specific mindset that was so prevalent that it can still be found today. It is the idea that to compliment a child would be to corrupt them. There was this vague belief a child couldn’t handle praise and would become spoiled and arrogant. A parent wasn’t to be mean, but they should counter any such prospect with statements like, “Don’t tell her that. It will give her the big head.” I wandered what a big head was when my father said those words in response to my grandfather saying I was pretty, but I suspected it meant to think too well of one’s self. To be conceited.
Or was it an attempt to stay in control of children? I know people who farmed had greater numbers of children to help them do the work on the farm. That also meant discipline was important for everything to run smoothly. People saw themselves as part of a group, not as an individual. That came in the last few years. Many people in Majority World countries still have the group identity. You don’t deal with one person, you deal with the whole family. So, getting back to the “big head” comment, perhaps children weren’t supposed to develop separate identities based on individual characteristics; being pretty, being smart, being independent, being special, etc.
I knew God loved me, but I think I fell in love with Him when I realized He thought I was special, valuable, unique, all the things my father so carefully avoided. And I don’t think it has corrupted me. Instead, it has had the opposite effect: I have grown more humble and appreciative. I want to love others more openly and unconditionally.
My husband is a product of this earlier generation’s stoicism about emotions. He once told to a friend that no one had better talk badly about me, except for him, or they would have to answer to him. She and I both wondered why the man who purported to love me believed he had the liberty to treat me badly? He will brag on me to others, but will not tell me good things to my face…I suppose he thinks it will give me the big head!
So how can a parent raise a well-balanced child? I am no psychologist, but my belief is to love a child, tell them so, tell them they are special to God and to them, to give them limits, goals, discipline, plenty of good praise for positive acts, and appropriate consequences for bad behavior. Instead of parents trying to prevent corruption from happening, I believe children will thrive on these things and want to be good persons.
I hope these old mindsets fade away, never to return. This world is harsh enough without parents withholding praise and love from malleable children.