Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Praising Children

Yesterday my coworker Russell sent out a link which he called "great article praising kids." I liked the article very, very much, even though it made me feel sad.
. . . .
It provided yet another piece of the explanation for why I am who I am: I can't remember ever being praised for effort as a child. It was instead always a peculiar kind of negative praise for being smart. Smartness, according to the article, is something we can't help having or not having. Effort, on the other hand, is something we can choose to make or not to make. Without positive reinforcement for effort, there is little incentive for the making of it. Here is a link to the article: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/
. . . .
At some point as a young adult I apparently received some praise for effort from someone because I ultimately did learn to make it. I can't help wondering, however, what my first eighteen or so years of life -- and later, even -- would have been like if I'd had the kind of reinforcement necessary to produce consistent effort.
. . . .
The thing is, though, is it makes me wonder how I praised my children. Without a role model to show me how to praise for effort, I think it is unlikely that I did. My guess is that I praised results and not smartness, but most of the time probably not effort either. I think one of my now-adult children reads this blog; if you choose to comment, Honey, please don't be too hard on me!

2 comments:

P.S. an after-thought said...

I understand the general gist of this idea of not praising something that can't be controled. For example, one of my children is extremely good looking as well as very outgoing, so she is constantly the center of attention. [She is adopted; I take no credit for any of that.] But I remember talking to her once about the fact that I consciously didn't praise her for being good looking because I wanted her to not think that was the key to life, etc.

But there is a flip side to all of this that is even more important. My mom often praised what I did, but it also often rang hollow for me. She did something that the child psychologists call "discounting." This is when someone double checks what you have done, or they give you lots of reminders, or they say it is great but they re-do it to an adult level, etc. My mom wasn't malicious; she just didn't know any better. She discounted me or my efforts or my work. Or the praise seemed too hyped for what it was about, so it seemed hollow.

In any case, my mom encouraged being inquisitive, which is great. But she didn't encourage any exploration or thinking out of the box because of all the double checking. That severely undermined my and my sister's self worth.

Nancy Bea said...

Great food for thought here! Thanks.