21 March 2012

{teach} Growth Based Praise

At some point during my childhood, I developed an addiction to praise. I bet I'm not the only one. I'm not sure why -- could I have possibly received too much praise? or not enough? But I remember thinking..."what can I say to get an 'atta-girl'? what can I do to deserve a 'good job, Laura'?"

I might have even avoided things that weren't sure to get me some affirmation.

To this day, I struggle with this. My happiness can be much too dependent on whether or not I feel like I've received enough genuine words of affirmation. 

It's unhealthy. I'm aware. :) 

But here's the deal: I'm a parent now. I want my children to have positive self-images and healthy self esteem. I want them to feel loved, appreciated and special. But I don't want them to become dependent on other human beings for their worth.

Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards, says in his article entitled "Five Reasons to Stop Saying 'Good Job'" {which was also published in Parents magazine},

"Rather than bolstering a child’s self-esteem, praise may increase kids’ dependence on us. The more we say, "I like the way you…" or "Good ______ing," the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval."

My first exposure to the phrase "growth-based-praise" was while researching for my 31 Days series back in October. I was writing a post about specific praise. I came across Christine Carter and her work in regards to something called "growth-mindset". Basically, it's about how we speak to our children -- giving them praise that is specific, undeniable and that encourages continued effort in the future.

"You picked up all your toys very quickly just as I asked and now we'll have plenty of time for stories together."

Specific. Undeniable. Makes him want to do that again. 

"Look at those muscles, kid. You've been practicing!"

It seems like sometimes a simple "good job" can leave a child wondering what exactly it was that they did right and forever clamoring for and searching for more of that praise. And if the praise-giver is fickle....and praises sometimes and not others, the child begins practicing certain behaviors just to test the system. They start the process of searching for what pleases the praise-giver.

Searching for approval.

Eventually it becomes not about the behavior at all {in the sense that we want our children to make life choices wisely, based on internal motivators}, but more about external value -- what others think and how they will respond. Children become masters at cause--->effect and will do whatever they find necessary to get the desired responses from adult caregivers.

Addicted to praise.

And we, as parents and educators and grandparents and friends, are so used to saying simple things like "good job" and "you're smart" and "that was awesome". It's hardcore habit. I know. I'm working on replacing generic complements with specific and growth-based praise. Or sometimes remaining quiet, which is totally okay. :) A smile works. A hug. An "I love you". I think it wouldn't hurt to bend our focus away from praise and closer to unconditional love.

Instead of generic praise:
Say what you saw.
Ask questions.
Say nothing at all.


“You gave Josh a turn on the bike! He looks happy.”
"Do you think all that practicing helped you succeed today?"

Dr Robert Cloninger at Washington University in St. Louis writes about praise in his article "How Not to Talk to Your Kids".

“A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

"I realized that not telling my son he was smart meant I was leaving it up to him to make his own conclusion about his intelligence. Jumping in with praise is like jumping in too soon with the answer to a homework problem—it robs him of the chance to make the deduction himself."


I think the bottom line here is that we shouldn't necessarily NEED praise.
By pointing out specifics about positive behavior and teaching the cause-effect relationship of life choices, our children should eventually learn how to self-affirm -- simply, they'll know how to live intelligently and they'll know it's good. They won't need much external motivation. It will become innate.

Teaching this? Modeling this? Hard work. But I'd say it's worth the effort.

What do you think of growth based praise? Do you hear yourself praising specifically, saying what you see, things that are undeniable? Are you addicted to praise like me?