As parents and teachers, we want the best for our children, and our natural inclination is to praise them when they do well or accomplish something that we approve of. We clap when they get the puzzle piece in the correct spot. We say, “good job” when they zip their jacket. We exclaim, “What a beautiful picture you made!” But in doing so are we actually diminishing their internal motivation and personal satisfaction in a job well done and replacing it with a need to please and seek approval?
Research by psychologist Carol Dweck of Stanford University has demonstrated that “Praising talent and ability makes kids afraid of difficulty and it makes them wilt when they have setbacks.” (For an overview of this research watch this 4:51 minute video).
In a PBS Parents online article titled “The Difference Between Praise and Encouragement,” Author Vicki Hoefle explains the problems with praise and what to do instead:
The Problems with Praise
Praise focuses on:
* perfection rather than progress and improvement
* a right or wrong outcome rather than a meaningful experience
* good or bad decisions rather than the decision-making process
* pride or disappointment rather than acceptance and support
Praise trains children to depend on constant feedback regarding what a “great job” they are doing. This dependency shatters rather than builds a child’s self-esteem.
Praise trains children to inquire, “Do you like it?” “Did I do a good job?” “Are you proud of me?” “Did I do it right?” Children begin to believe that what others think is more important than what they think about their choices, actions, accomplishments and mistakes. Praise jeopardizes the child’s ability to develop their own internal compass to guide the decision-making process.
Praise fractures the relationship between parent and child. Without even realizing it, parents may be using praise as a tool to direct and manipulate the child’s behavior. The message is clear—I approve of you when you … and I do not approve of you when you. … Living with this kind of constant judgment can damage not only the child’s confidence but also the relationship.
So If Not Praise, What?
The remedy to the problem of praise is encouragement. Encouragement can be given at any time, to anyone, in any situation. It is an observation, an acknowledgment, a statement that focuses on effort, improvement or choice, and it helps to promote self-esteem and a sense of well-being, confidence, insight and resilience.
I admit that I still mess up on a daily basis – I catch myself praising, rather than merely saying, “thank you” or asking “How did it feel to accomplish something new?” or just sharing an encouraging smile and not saying anything at all. I even sometimes question – “Is this praise or encouragement?” because not all the information I have read agrees on exactly what is best to say. And how detrimental is it to sometimes say, “What a beautiful picture!” when it really is a beautiful picture? But I will keep thinking about it and trying my best, both for your children and mine!
For more information on the difference between praise and encouragement, click here and here and go ahead and do your own research on the topic.