...because we all have our motley moments!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Can Kids Have Too Much Praise?

I've been doing a bit of reading lately about the problem with too much praise in raising children. Too much praise? Is there really such a thing? I believe there is. I want my children to have freedom to really be themselves. I don't want them to feel as if they have to live up to my expectations of them.

I worry about this because I was a first child and an overachiever, as many firsts are. I pushed and pushed myself. My parents didn't care if I got straight A's, I did. They didn't care if I came in first, I did. And, to this day, I don't want to be good at something, I want to do it perfectly, for me. It can be a hard way to live.

As an infant, THE Princess, seemed to command praise. She would clap her hands and everyone else would, too. She identified the parts of her body, they cheered. Before I was a parent I would have laughed at that statement. Now, I know the power these little people hold. They hold our adoration. And, sometimes it is just too much.

So, I am starting, little by little. I am using the advice of Naomi Aldort, who says this: "For a young child, I suggest to simply stop dishing out the praise. If she asks, "Was I good?" put the power back in her lap with, "Did you enjoy doing it; do you like it?" If she insists on your feedback, you can say, "I love it because I love anything you do because I love you." Or, you can offer an older child feedback rather than praise. Ask the child what she needs to know: "Would you like to know if your leg was straight in the air when you jumped?" or, "Do you want to know if the blue stands out in your painting?"

Okay, I can do that. Right? It doesn't sound that hard. Give them acceptance. Don't make them feel as if they have to earn love through praise. I'm working at being purposeful about my words to my children. It's something I can learn to do, I'm sure.

It's not that I don't want to praise my children. I do. But, I don't want them to be something other than themselves because of my praise. My children are children of God. I want them to grow into the awesome people that God wants for them to be. My dreams for them are limited by my human nature and our flawed world. His dreams for them are greater than I may ever know.


Donna said...

Well said, Bryssy. One of the Musikgarten principles is to let children enjoy the music they make (or attempts they make) without the judgment of excessive praise. We simply smile and say, "Thank You, Bobby," as a way of acknowledging their efforts. Clapping, whooping, laughing, and praising a child for their "performance" puts pressure on them and all the others to do it so the adults will be happy with it, rather than to do it because it's fun and joyful.

Now I need to apply that in my own parenting philosophy. My kids are the same way about asking for and expecting praise for every little thing they do. Mostly they just want my attention, but my response could probably be a little different. My son will ask "Did I do a great job?" or "Do I look handsome today?" as he presents himself in brown and green lederhosen and a sky blue plaid shirt...hmmm.

Our two-year-old has begun asking for adults to "Watch! Watch, Miss Rachel!" whenever she does something she thinks is fun or noteworthy (jumping with both feet off the ground, sliding, climbing). She wants acknowledgement of her accomplishments. Maybe the response simply needs to be "Did you like sliding down the slide? Was it fun?" "How high do you think you jumped?" "What do you see from the top of the climbing wall?" Basically putting the focus on the experience, rather than the accomplishment.

It's hard though, as a parent, to hold back sometimes. My first response tends to be praise. And I do think there are times when praise is necessary to teach our expectations: "Wow, honey! Great job folding the towels and stacking them neatly in the linen closet." Or "Oh, you really buckled up fast! It's great having a big kid who can buckle his own carseat!" Specific praise does help them learn what they are doing right. Insincere praise, in the long run, are just empty words to a child...and they DO know the difference!

Rachel said...

I totally agree that praise is something to be given wisely and sparingly, but WOW is it hard to put my money where my mouth is on that one! It's so much easier just to say, "Yay, you did it," instead of thinking consciously in the moment "what did he do, how did he do it, how should he feel about it, what are the anticipated results..." and then responding accordingly! Someone should write a book of Acceptable Substitutes for Praise and make it a pocket-sized addition! (Donna, could you make that your first writing task?)

Great, thought-provoking post, Bryssy! Um, I'm sorry, I meant, I bet you feel good about yourself having finished that post, Bryssy...is that better? :)

Bryssy said...

Um, yea, that is the whole problem, Rachel. I am used to praising so I have to really think about what I say so that I can give that good feedback and not just empty praise. I did well at it yesterday, and so far today (it's only 7:30 am). We'll have to see how I do!

It's harder than it sounds!