My Child, the Prodigy — and Other Punchlines

All those people who think it's impossible to praise one's kids too much may need a little dose of reality. But essayist and father Peter Sagal says it won't start with him — or his daughter's tee-ball team. Sagal is the host of NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! He lives in Chicago.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Peter Sagal is the host of the news quiz show WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME!, and more importantly he is a proud father. And he has no time for those who think it's possible to give children too much praise.

Mr. PETER SAGAL (Host, WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME!): You know those people you meet - the self-important ones - the ones who believe that they are in fact the blessing that the creator has sent to bring some relief to this veil of woe.

I'm trying to raise my children to be just like them. Because think about it, self-satisfied prigs are incredibly annoying to you and me, we, who are rack by doubt, but they themselves seemed pretty happy. And why shouldn't they be? They think they're perfect. What they don't know will never pierce the armor of their thick self-regard.

There's a lot of talk these days about how we may be spoiling our children with too much praise, how we are raising a generation of people so inflated by parental puffery that they will some day wreck the economy by - I don't know - submitting quarterly reports to their department supervisor that aren't quite as good as they think they are. Because they were told as children that their finger paintings were just amazing, when in fact they weren't that hot.

Come on, how many people have ever turned to you - after one too many drinks maybe - and confessed to you that their problem is that their parents were too supportive. Oh it's so awful my parents told me I was wonderful and special and successful all the time, if only they had cut me down to size once or twice perhaps then I'd be divorced and between jobs all the time just like you.

I happened to be coaching my six-year-old daughter's T-ball team this season. For those of you who have never seen a little girl's T-ball game, it is not so much a sporting event as an elaborate bit of performance art in which little girls dressed up as baseball players and run the bases often in the correct direction and their parents stand in the sidelines and challenge themselves to come up with new ways to praise their daughters for messing up.

Oh good try, honey. Oh, sweetie, when you just stood there as the ball rolled by, you had the most lovely beatific look on your face.

But the fact of the matter is the girls thrived on the praise. When my daughter managed to catch a ball and throw it to the correct base, albeit about six minutes after the runner had safely arrived there, I yelled out good job, Gracey(ph), and she smiled so wide that the top of her head almost came off.

All right maybe we are deluding them. Maybe they're going to be hurt when the world turns out to be crueler than T-ball and they get cut from the team in favor of somebody who can really play.

But here's the secret, we parents are not engaging in some elaborate Dr. Terry Braselton(ph)-conceived scheme to falsely puff up their egos. We mean it. When my daughter actually manages to catch the ball, I am genuinely thrilled and my shouts of encouragement are propelled by a mighty interior wind of joy.

The other day my oldest daughter who sings in a children's chorus, of about 20 kids, won their annual award for the most outstanding singer. I leapt to my feet and shouted. People stared as I clapped wildly. Now there are those who might think this outlandish display of excitement might somehow spoil her, might make her less able to deal with setbacks to come. Too bad for her then, I've never been happier my whole life.

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NORRIS: Peter Sagal is the host of NPR's WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME!

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