I know the headline is totally controversial, like who in the right mind says praise is not encouragement. Everywhere we find adults praising children. “Good Job”, “Great Work”, “Amazing, couldn’t have done better!” There is plenty of theory that says rewards and punishments are the best way to motivate children. Some even suggest spanking, timeouts, bribing them with stickers, stars or food.
I believe it is not healthy to give praise. Praise and encouragement are two separate things. Let me explain why praise and rewards do not benefit the child in the long run.
Focus is on rewards: Why we offer praise and rewards, for the results or for the process? Well, most of us parents want to instil good habits in children and want children to repeat the good habits, hence the rewards. But the children are conditioned to only focus on the reward. “You get a chocolate when you finish lunch”. Well, if there is no chocolate, should they finish their lunch or not? This is dilemma for the child, but I want a chocolate lunch or no lunch. The habit or process of finishing the meal doesn’t get the focus while the child will fuss about no chocolate at the end of his meal.
Praise Junkies: Sometimes we offer praise because we genuinely like their work. But let us examine this closely, when we offer praise we are not bolstering their self-esteem, we are increasing their dependence. Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida, discovered that students who were praised lavishly by their teachers were more tentative in their responses, more apt to answer in a questioning tone of voice (“Um, seven?”). They tended to back off from an idea they had proposed as soon as an adult disagreed with them. And they were less likely to persist with difficult tasks or share their ideas with other students. (Source: alfiekohn.org) Good Job: doesn’t reassure them, but makes them dependent on more “Good Job”
Lose interest in the work: When a child finishes a painting we are quick to say “Wow, what a beautiful bus”. Some of us truly want to encourage the child to draw more, but the child focuses on the praise he received. Once the attention is withdrawn, many children won’t touch the activity again. A study conducted by Joan Grusec at the University of Toronto, young children who were frequently praised for displays of generosity tended to be slightly less generous on an everyday basis than other children were. Every time they had heard “Good sharing!” or “I’m so proud of you for helping,” they became a little less interested in sharing or helping. (Source: alfiekohn.org)
Reducing achievement: Praise creates pressure to keep up the good work. Children tend to not take challenging tasks as they are afraid they will not be able to live up to the expectations. This impacts creativity as children will only do what they are comfortable with. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next task and they don’t do as well as children who weren’t praised, to begin with.
So what do we do when we want to encourage or when we find our children did something impressive
1. Say nothing: I know this is tough, but the act of reinforcing good behaviour with praise doesn’t help in long term.
2. Say what you saw: Simple evaluation-free statement “You put your shoes on by yourself” or event “You did it”
3. Talk less ask more: Even better than descriptions are questions: What did you like about the painting? What was the most difficult part of it? Get them to talk more than you.
The article is to help parents not sugar coat everything our child does. We need to consider our motives and effects of what we are saying. Think long term when it comes to child development.
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