I don’t think praising or external rewards will ruin our children. Being recognized for accomplishments from your family, community, and work place is commonly done, and can be done tactfully. If done in an appreciative and genuine manner, it tends to be more connecting than bestowing approval upon someone.
The problem is that praise has been used as a behavior modification strategy and has been a large focus in parenting for a while now. Praise has been used to control rather than empower. However, parents are starting to see the true importance of self regulation, self motivation, and an internal moral compass. It’s more work in the beginning perhaps, but less work as kids get older. I also believe it leads to healthier individuals, and a healthier planet.
Children will naturally look to their caregivers for some approval and confirmation, so I’m not exactly sure if praising or approval should completely disappear. But praising has been over used, while building an internal locus of control, and intrinsic motivation are under developed
I know that if we are going to praise, praising the process rather than the person or outcome leads to more of a growth mindset and resilience building.
Here are some things I often use in place of praise:
- Question asking
These alternative responses are powerful and effective tools that build self awareness, self regulation and connection. Noticing is when you talk about what the child is doing in a descriptive (non judgemental) way. “You put your boots on like this” “You did it”. Question asking is just that. For example: “What’s going on here? Is this a lego city? What kind of structure is this”? And appreciation is when we might say “thank you” when someone has been helpful, rather than approving of them (good job) for it.
Do you see how this shifts and refocuses the energy?
Of course, tone impacts how our words are construed. Your tone could give away an underlying message of attempting to steer or control. Because of this, I try not to be over the top in my congratulatory tone. I find it can be inauthentic in it’s intent. Celebrate wins appropriately, genuinely…and focus on the child, not what you think of the child.
The bottom line for me is that I watch the amount of praise I hand out. When I do, I try to keep it focused on the child and their specific actions, rather than a general comment or statement of approval (Good job). I focus on process and I also use “noticing” and appreciation a lot.
Hope this helps,