On Praise

I don’t think all praise is bad and that external recognition will necessarily ruin our children. I understand that we live in a society that commonly recognizes people for accomplishments. Families celebrate success and achievement as do communities, and workplaces. It can be done tactfully. If done in an appreciative and genuine manner, it is more connecting and empowering than simply bestowing authority centric approval or external validation upon someone.
However, I have downplayed praise and consciously injected things other than direct praise into my parenting repertoire. I have noticed that praise is being overused. It has become a behavior modification strategy in parenting and education. It has become manipulative in my opinion. Praise is being used to control rather than empower.
In short, my goal is to help my kids learn to do what is authentic for them. I want them as much as possible to do the right things for the right reasons rather than for a gold sticker or because of a dangling carrot.
Praise for the most part focuses on the praiser and what he or she wants or thinks is right. I prefer to encourage self reflection, self motivation, an to foster the internal 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.
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:

Focusing on Process: Example: “You tried hard, you practiced a lot and figured out how to ride your bike.”
Child centered Recognition: Example: “You did it! Good for you!”
Noticing: Example: “It looks like you are happy with your painting.”
Sharing Excitement: Example: “I’m really happy for you. You must be proud.”
Question asking: Example: “How did you learn to do that rubik’s cube? How did if feel to complete it?”
Appreciation: Example: “Thank you for hanging your jacket on the hook. That was helpful.”
These alternative responses I have found are powerful and effective tools that build self awareness, self reflection, and self efficacy. I think it also builds connection. “Good job” can be a throw away kind of statement that doesn’t require much presence or connection. 
You will notice that these statements are focused on the child, not on the parent. The word “You” is mostly used instead of “I”.
Do you see how this shifts and refocuses the energy?
The bottom line for me is that I watch the amount of praise I hand out. I do think children will naturally look to their parents and caregivers for some approval and confirmation, so I’m not exactly sure if praising or approval should completely disappear.
When I do praise, I try to give a deeper more descriptive kind of praise that focuses on the process. So, once in a while I will say something like this: “Yes, I do like your painting. I think it’s great! It is very creative. You did this and this. You used your brush in an interesting way here. There are blues over here and they mix with reds here to create purple. I think it is colorful and whimsical.”
Hope this helps,
Drew Tupper

One comment on “On Praise

  1. Thank you Drew. I will definitely be giving some thought to my motivations and executions of praise, as I now understand that I may be being a little coercive.

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