A Parent On Praise

I wrote this as a parent of one of the school kids, these are my personal views.

I have often been confused about praise. My parenting style can best be described as lovingly applied Behavior Modification – which relies heavily on positive and a bit on negative reinforcement. I have heard child psychologists views on it, but to me it seems the parenting style of choice because I can see it is working (and maybe because at the bottom of my heart I am still an engineer).

So my most used positive reinforcements are stickers on her reward chart, “privileges” (watch a movie, extra playdates, sweets…) and by far the number one – praise. I have very alternative friends, who did away with praising almost entirely and explained the reasons to me in a way I could not understand.

greatschools.org has an article about praise that shows how and why praising for the effort rather than the accomplishment will make a difference.

If your child shows you a drawing, and you respond with “You’re so talented! That picture is so pretty!” (“Praising the accomplishment”) The result? Your child could become afraid of trying hard in the future (“My next drawing might not be so good”), feel misunderstood (“It’s not pretty! I drew an ugly witch!”), and — kids being masters at spotting a con, even a well-meaning one — doubt your sincerity (“Come on, it’s not that pretty”).

Some examples:

The situation: Without you asking, your kid got her socks and shoes on and comes right down to breakfast.
Praising the accomplishment: “You got your socks and shoes on! What a good girl.”
Praising the effort: “You found socks to match and got your shoes on without any help. That was a lot to do on your own.”

The situation: Your child has built an elaborate block city.
Praising the accomplishment: “Wow! That’s the most amazing block structure I’ve ever seen! You’re going to be a world-famous architect.”
Praising the effort: “Look at how many blocks are in your city! I can tell you worked really hard on it, but it must have been a lot of fun to build.”

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