This is the first part of a two part series on praise. To read part two, click here
Children neither want nor need praise.
Let me just leave that statement hanging in the air so you can digest it for a moment.
This message can be brand new news to many parents, and for most leaves an uncomfortable feeling within them. The majority of us were raised with the three trick parenting style of praise, punishment and reward. Basically, we were trained to perform in ways that were deemed appropriate by our parents and society. We are lucky enough to live in a time where we have access to far more support and information then our parents could have ever dreamed of. We know better and we can do better.
When we praise our children we steal their accomplishments and make it all about us. Here is an example for you:
A child learns to write his name. He may have been feeling incredibly pleased with himself. He may have enjoyed the feel of forming the letters, the pen in his hand, achieving a goal he has long worked towards. All he is thinking about is his accomplishment. Right then his mum comes into the room, notices what he has done and says the following two words:
What she is doing in saying this, is trying to express her pride and excitement in his achievement. However, by saying these words, what message has the child actually received?
- I’m good when I write well. What does that mean when I don’t?
- Mum likes me more when I write well.
When you praise a child, you make their accomplishment about you rather than about them, which takes away their internal/intrinsic motivation and makes it less fun to repeat the action. In the example above, the child may have enjoyed the experience, discovered his own preferences, and been feeling happy about this. When he is told he is a “good boy” or given a “well done for trying that” it makes it feel like an obligation, that he should have been doing it. The praise can be confusing for children – they liked your reaction so they want to get it again, but to do this it will likely mean doing things that are not authentic to them in the future. Next time perhaps they don’t feel like trying something new, eating all their dinner, writing, sharing their toys, the list is endless. But they want to see you happy with them again, so they do it for the praise, not for themselves. This can lead to “parent pleasing” children, who forget their own motivation.
They believe they are “good” or “bad” when they act a certain way, but the reality is that they are neither and both, and we love them the all the same. When we praise and punish, they don’t get to see that unconditional love, just our reactions.
Next week I will continue with this topic and write about how we can still share in our child’s excitement and take note of our children’s achievements without making it about what pleases us.
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