Saturday, June 5, 2010

About Praise

At school, I've been trying to keep to the rule of thumb: avoid all forms of rewards and punishments. (Alfie Kohn's book on the subject is all one needs to read to be convinced of their ineffectiveness.) While this is pretty straightforward in terms of not having sticker charts, grades, time out corners, and other typical classroom methods of control, I find it trickier when it comes to praise. It can be hard to find the right words when confronted with a beaming child!

For me, the bottom line with praise is that there is a right and wrong way to do it.

I find the arguments against using praise convincing:

-It is ultimately a form of "sugar coated" manipulation
-Children can become dependent on it
-It messes with children's motivations
-It can often belittle a child's success or joy (it can be kind of patronizing)
-It can create a pressure to "perform"
-It can rob a child of their sense of accomplishment
-Often it's just a habitual reaction instead of a genuninely thought-felt comment

(If you're not convinced by my bullet points, here's a great little article with more details about why a certain kind of praise is not the best way to acknowledge a child's achievement.)

At our Conscious Discipline meeting today, we touched on the subject of verbal encouragement. I liked the way our teacher, Helen Guda, spoke about the messages we convey when we praise and her suggestions on how to offer praise consciously.

- You can simply describe what the child did. ex: "You finished the addition tables!"

-Connect what the child did with the feelings of joy and satisfaction they got from their accomplishment. ex: "I can see you are feeling so proud about learning how to play that song on the xylophone."

-Describe what you see. "You put on your shoes all by yourself and you look very happy."

-Notice the effort and progress of the child. ex: "The last time you tried, you walked around half of the line before the water spilled. This time you made it all the way around."

-Notice the contributions that children bring to the group. ex: "You washed the snack table and now everyone will get to eat snack on a clean table."

-Consider if it's really necessary to say ANYTHING AT ALL. Sometimes just a smile is enough recognition.


Annicles said...

I agree with this and yet find it very hard to kick the habit! I do try though.

I don't know about in the states but in the UK stickers are very popular as a reward. I don't give them as a reward but I do give them as a reminder. If a child does something s/he wants to remember to tell their parents about they mention this to us and we let them choose a sticker to put on their jumper/ shirt.

We find with this age child when their parents ask how school was or what they did, they often get a "nothing much" response. The child has probably forgotten about the work they did in the morning they were so proud of. A sticker helps them remember what it was.

We don't give them out for everything - each child only gets 1/2 a week, if that, depending on the child.

It is also a good way to encourage a child to evaluate their own work, according to his/her own outlook. We then see the children who are too self-critical or too accepting of work that is less than they can achieve. We use other methods too but this is a good starter.

2 Pequeños Traviesos said...

Thank you so much for this enlighting post. I'm homeschooling my 2 kids, 3 & 8 yo, using the Montessori Method. As a parent and person responsible for their learning process, I'm trying to find better ways to educate, raise and discipline my kids. My 3 yo is constantly showing signs of stress, anger and frustration. Is there a parenting book you'd recommend that's aligned to the Montessori & Christian philosophy? Thanks for recommending this book.

Ofthesea said...

Que dificil!! Yo tengo que ir empezando desde ahora... voy a leerme el articulo y tratar de internalizar.
I do agree - it's a super tough habit to break!

Amy said...

Thanks for this post, it is a good reminder. I've read Alfie's book and learned a lot, especially how ineffective praise, rewards and punishments are w/ adults too! I agree entirely. Thanks for the tips!

melissa said...

What excellent ideas for responses! I will have to remember some of those. My go-to has always been, "You must be very proud," but you can only say that so many times. It is amazing how deeply the tendency to praise is ingrained in our culture.

melissa said...

I find that what is looked for by the child is *celebration* something that goes from heart to heart --unlike praise, which comes from above to below.
maybe also a bit of empathy--noticing how pleased the child is, the sense of accomplishment, and maybe asking how it was for him to do that piece?
my children love just for me to really see their work, to be pleased with their pleasure.

for "dos pequenos traviesos" I really recommend the book "hold on to your kids" by gordon Neufeld and gordon mate...its also in spanish...its changed our home life!
mamma di 7

Beth said...

Hi Susanne,

Can we quote/share the link to this article on the Develop to Grow Fan Page on Facebook?

That's Helen's Fan Page for all her CDCI activities.

Let me know via email:

Great Article, it reflects a lot what the book Easy to Love, Hard to discipline.

My son is 11 months and in my conversations I try to change the way I praise him too... because it's a big unlearning process .... some days I do better than others.

Greetings and keep up the great work!


Anonymous said...

Reread your Alan Kazdin. Kohn is very persuasive, but there's no science behind his opinions.

You're right that it does matter HOW you praise though.