Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Good Praising!

Saying "Good Job" is like a nervous tic for me. I don't even realize that I'm saying it. I even remember having been proud that I had at one time replaced "good boy/girl", with enthusiastic "good jobs". And now I'm learning that praise is NOT good for kids. Rather than motivate, praise DE-motivates and can even wreak havoc on their esteem in the long run. This completely flies in the face of positive reinforcement!

Here's a summary of a great article that explains why praise is bad:

1. Sometimes it's about control. We know they're hungry for our approval so we praise them to get them to comply. I know this is manipulation because I do it in my marriage - yikes! This won't be easy, but I'm going to try looking closer at my motives to see if my comments are helpful or if I'm just trying to control them.

2. Creating praise junkies. I can see the dependency potential -- they know what pleases Mommy, so they behave a certain way to get more praise, feels like love, want more praise, etc. Sadly, I was that child hopping up and down yelling "look at me, look at me, did you see what I did?" Rather than feeling good about my own achievements, I didn't feel that it counted unless someone else saw it. In fact, this 'need for approval' is one of my biggest relationship hang-ups *sigh*. I DO NOT want this for my children.

3. Robbing them of the opportunity to figure things out on their own. That look of delight on my child's face when they are pleased with an accomplishment is so precious. But when I jump in with my own 'good job', I'm giving them my evaluation of what's good rather than letting them form their own judgements. Why as a parent do I always feel the need to provide my own commentary? "That was great" "Good __ing!" "I like your sharing". Why say anything? Who cares what I like anyway? It's not about me. Just being there for them and smiling says enough. I want to share in their joy, not have them share in mine. Wouldn't you rather hear "I did it!" than "Was that good?".

4. Losing out on the actual experience. I want my kids to enjoy and learn from an experience -- to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do rather than for an external reward. Research shows that kids who are dependent on praise don't learn to embrace the activity because they are so fixated on the end goal. They also lose interest in the activity once the praise subsides. I want my kids to enjoy life -- to be self-motivators, to have perseverance and to live in the moment, not do things because it pleases someone else.

The more I read about parenting, the more I get the sense that it's just best to back off! Be there for them when they need you, but let them navigate their own way. The business student (and control freak) in me says this is inefficient. But this is not about mastering a work task -- this is their childhood and they only get to live it once. They are not my proteg├ęs and this is not about me anymore. So rather than dole out empty praise I'm going to try and say less. I'll still be there to witness and share in their joy. But my feedback (when appropriate) will be descriptive ("You climbed to the top all by yourself") rather than about my feelings ("I'm so proud of you").

I think writing this helps put me on the right track with my praise habit. This really comes back to my overall advice on parenting -- do what's good for your child, not what's good for you.

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