A world without praise and encouragement

When you hear from experts on education and discipline, there is a big issue surrounding the use of  “Good Job!”, aka praise. There is a really bad stigma around praise, almost as much as veral or physical abuse. Ok, I might be exaggerating a bit, but repetitive praise is widely cited as an obstacle character development.

All the books I have read on discipline, education of and communication with kids, focus on praise and its affects. A chapter in NurtureShock, though it is not a book on education of or communication with kids, delves into how constantly praising can backfire on kids.
I want to talk about this subject not as a theory but in practice. Is it possible to bring up a child without praising, encouraging, recognizing him/her? Is this feasible?
The authors of NurtureShock have relayed two very important points of information, one of which I wasn’t aware of. First, praises such as “You are very smart. You are a genius”, that complement a trait, but an effort fail to do the expected impact, i.e. to encourage them. Children think they accomplish things only because they are smart but not because they work hard, so they tend to avoid doing things that require harder effort, fearing people will think they are not smart if they cannot accomplish.
Second, is the part where I have an issue relating, is the fact that recognition and praising do not have the same effect on kids as they do on adults. I always question as an adult, how I would keep myself constantly motivated if people around me did not recognize, appreciate, praise and thank me. So in this sense, it was obvious to me that same thing would apply for kids as well. Apparently, it doesn’t.
People don’t want to do anything without recognition anymore. I would have hard time at work to motivate myself, if noone seems to care about my efforts. Public education system constantly makes kids compete with each other and be tested. I cannot imagine how logical it would be to expect these kids to learn something for the sake of learning and be proud of themselves, motivate themselves without some type of praise or encouragement.
Let’s talk about practical application. I am not a mother that constantly praises her kids but when my children do or say something I feel the need to respond. Otherwise, I would be ignorant. When one of my kids come to and say “Look mom, look what I did?”, I can’t just smile or state blank at his/her face. I sometimes say “thank you, well done, good job” then sometimes I try to say, “great choice of colors”, “you worked hard” or “see you are getting better at it” trying to concentrate on the process instead of the results even though I can’t always be good at properly praising my children.
Every parent is different in praising their kids. I’ve learned my way from my parents. Some experts advice to say, You worked hard and accomplished it”, some experts advice to use “I” instead of you so say “ I appreciate your hard work”. I feel like cutting to the chase and say “Good Job” hoping that my children will understand the underlying detail in this praise.
The hesitance to use of praise brings me to another point in our culture.  The increasing habit of criticizing, instead of recognition and praise in our society. We don’t do this only towards our kids. This is how we, adults, treat each other in our daily lives. When we like a product or enjoy someone’s service, we don’t take the time to praise or thank, but if we’ve received a bad service or a product which was not what we expected it to be, we tell all of friends about it, we write on Facebook, announce it on Twitter.
When siblings figh, we tell them “Stop arguing with your brother/sister, you guys never get along” but when they play together, we barely recognize the harmony and love. We emphasize the mistakes, errors, misbehavior.  That’s why when they are playing together, getting along well, I try to give my children big hugs. We have audible conversations with my husband when our children are with us, telling each other how happy it makes us to see them playing together so nicely and having fun.”
My kids are different from each other. Here is the synthesis I came up with from my reads and experience at home:
1-It is important to recognize kids for their effort on doing things that they were asked to do, but have not chosen to do themselves in the first place. The simplest thing to do would be saying thank you.
2- Praise should not focus on results but on the process and efforts exerted by your child. You should never over exaggerate praise. You should sound as “au naturale” as possible.
3- Instead of criticizing your kids mistakes, work on the issues, help your kids to come up with alternatives or provide them with alternative solutions. You need to spend some time for this, be calm and patient with your kids.
4- The method I started using from this book, is encouraging them to persevere on working things that seem hard by telling that trying would “help their brain muscles grow”. My son likes this phrase very much.
5- We as parents need to encourage and gently push our kids to keep them working on things that struggle with, instead of quitting right away.
If you like books such as Freakonomics or Tipping Point and don’t like traditional parenting books, I highly recommend you to read Nurture Shock.
Here are my questions to my readers:
  • What is the situation in your home in regards to praising your kids? Do you praise too often or are you pretty stingy with your praises?
  • Do you feel like reading off of a script when you try to praise the effort or make “I” sentences?
  • How is the balance between the mother and the father?

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