Some Types of Praise Can Be Discouraging
General praise like "You are always so sweet" can pressure children to live up to unrealistic standards; they may spend their lives striving to live up to an image of perfection, or they may act out in hopes that their parents will see them for who they really are. Praise that relies on value judgments ("good boy" or "great job") can create children who grow up and are constantly looking for feedback about whether they are good enough. Praise that focuses on what you think or feel about the child's behavior teaches them to seek approval. It can imply that you like them when they please you. Many people strive to win others' love by pleasing them; this is something I still struggle with myself. Giving praise only when a job is well-done teaches that accomplishments are what matter, when in reality, the process is just as important. Lastly, avoid praise that compares the child to others, such as siblings or peers.
Rewards Can Also Be Damaging
Parents, teachers, and other caregivers often use rewards such as money, candy, toys, or special privileges. Over time, though, such rewards either lose their meaning to the child or they teach the child to value things more than relationships. Rewards (and the other side of the coin, punishments) train children to please others- but do we actually want our children to grow up to become people-pleasers? I know I don't! Rewards also do not build internal motivation; they lead to children who do things because of what they'll get out of it (or because of the fear of punishment) rather than because it's the right thing to do. A few years ago, I read the book Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn. It is an excellent book about the dangers of rewards and punishments, and I highly recommend it.
Offering Healthy Encouragement
The first step to offering encouragement is to truly notice your child. Simply giving a child your attention is encouraging in itself. Then describe what you see, rather than judging. Be your child's mirror. Instead of saying "Good job," say something like, "You tied your own shoes!" When you describe what you see without assigning a value judgment to it, the child can then make his own evaluation of the situation. Additionally, when you help your child become conscious of his actions and let him make his own judgments, you are actually strengthening the frontal lobes of his brain. The frontal lobe can regulate the emotional part of the brain, so a person with a well-developed frontal lobe will be better at managing his emotions and calming himself. Obviously, this is an outcome most parents would desire!
Here are some guidelines for noticing children rather than judging:
- Start with the child's name or "you." Other good starting phrases are, "You did it!" or "Look at you!" Judging statements, on the other hand, generally start with general terms like "good" or "great."
- Describe exactly what you see, and be specific. Say something like, "You put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher. That was helpful," rather than "Thank you for being so helpful."
- End with a tag like, "That was helpful/thoughtful/kind/caring," or "Good for you."
Shine Your Light On What You Value
Giving praise is like turning on a flashlight in a dark room: The places you point your flashlight at indicate what you value. If you focus on your children being "good," you teach them to please others in order to feel worthy... If you accentuate your children's strengths, you teach them about their abilities. If you encourage their contributions, you teach them how important it is to share their gifts.Here are some things you may want to shine your light on. Notice these things about your child and call attention to them using the guidelines above:
- His assets and strengths
- His efforts, progress, and accomplishments
- His contributions to others
- His willingness to cooperate when you set limits
As usual, there is so much helpful information in this chapter, and I simply cannot share it all here. If you are interested in learning more, please read Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey. It will be worth your time!