Sunday, July 25, 2010

Re-thinking praise

In an earlier post, I wrote about how praise was bad for kids -- how it turns them into praise junkies who grow up to be needy adults. Since then, my partner and I have cut back on praise. In fact when I hear other parents mindlessly telling their kids "good job" at every turn, it really grates on my nerves.

But something is amiss. I feel like an ogre for not encouraging my kids. Afterall, showing appreciation builds a child's self-esteem (Unfortunately that word brings to mind accusations of weak parents and schools who sacrifice educating children by not allowing them to fail and thereby preserving the child's self-esteem. I'll save that topic for another post though). A child's self image has a profound effect on their thinking processes, emotions, desires, values and goals. And it's my responsibility to help them create a positive and realistic image of themselves. It also feels great when someone else recognizes your struggle and congratulates you on a job well done. Who doesn't want to be appreciated by their loved ones? So maybe I shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater where praise is concerned.

I think the key to expressing appreciation is sincerity. 'Good jobs' for jumping off the bottom step on a play structure is completely and utterly meaningless! In order for praise to boost self-esteem, it's got to be specific so that the child can praise themselves. Here's how the book How To Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk suggests praising kids:

1. Describe what you see: "I see a clean floor, a made bed, and books neatly lined up on the shelf."

2. Describe what you feel: "It's a pleasure to walk in this room."

3. Sum up the child's praise worthy behaviour with a word: "You sorted all your craft materials into different containers and threw out all the broken pieces. That's what I call organization."

I really like this approach. It's easy to remember too. I can tell right away if my praise is sincere because if I have a difficult time describing what is so great then I know that it's not. Bonus is that this works with my partner -- I'm learning that spouses need appreciation too. In fact, they crave it (more on that later).

So this post is more a reminder to myself than anything. Sometimes I think that I must've been raised by wolves -- just look at how long it's taken me to start learning how to be a decent human being. XX


  1. I dunno. I agree that saying "good job" at everything is ridiculous (and I catch myself doing it often), but I worry that holding back isn't a great idea either. Think of that kid who's parents never let them eat junk food, then they get older and pig out all the time.

    *sigh* It's a lose-lose situation. We're gonna fuck up our kids either way! lol

  2. yeah, a lot of this stuff has just shattered my confidence -- I don't know what to say anymore! You're right, our kids will eventually blame and hate us the same way we do our parents. It's normal, so I should just stop over-thinking it.
    Sadly, we are the parents that gorge ourselves on junk food behind our kids backs. They STILL haven't had pop or hard candy. I'm ready to let it go though -- an all out binge for everyone!

  3. Holden's never had pop or hard candy either... but he's had other stuff. He gets a treat about once a week. But we eat junk after his bedtime too LOL