Monday, August 03, 2009

PD Tool: Encouragement vs. Praise

Okay--I had a lot of fun practicing the One Word PD Tool last week. It was a great exercise for me, and it went over very well with the kids. Even Ryan, who at first took this unusually brief approach for terseness, got into it by the end of the week.

And now that the week is up, I'm not going to stop using this tool. It's in my Parenting Toolbox now, and I will use it when I can, especially with Morgan, who REALLY appreciates just a simple reminder instead of a full-on lecture.

Personally, I enjoyed how focused I was on using a tool that helps me parent according to my values.

This week, I'm going to focus on the Encouragement vs. Praise card. From the card:

"Teaches self-reliance instead of dependence on others. Encouragement invites self-evaluation. Praise invites children to become 'approval junkies.' "

The examples on the card include:

  • Praise: "I'm so proud of you. Here's your reward."
  • Encouragement: "You worked hard. You must be so proud of yourself."
  • Praise: "You are such a good girl."
  • Encouragement: "Thanks for helping."

This is actually a tool I think I'm already pretty good at using, but I think it never hurts to have a refresher course. So this week, I'm going to try to pay extra attention to my use of encouragement.

The distinction between Encouragement and Praise can be subtle. And it's a fine line to walk as a parent, too. A parent needs to offer encouraging support to kids. Kids needs that sometimes. Actually, everyone needs that sometimes!

Over-praising kids--cheerleading--can certainly give children an impression that they need to look to someone else for cues about how they ought to be feeling. My kids certainly want me to see them do things and notice their accomplishments. But when they do, I'm careful not to merely praise them.

If I'm praising something or someone, I'm passing on a value judgment of mine. Don't get me wrong--I think it's fine to let the kids in on what my values are and what I think about things. But I want to be careful to do such communication in a way that does not encourage them to substitute my judgment for their own. Also, praise isn't a useful tool when someone is feeling sad about something, and needs loving support.

Words of encouragement express confidence, concern, assistance if necessary, and they also allow for the person to experience their own feelings about whatever is going on independently.

A few examples, just from today:

  • Child dropped the ball again and again and cries "I can't do it! I'll never be able to do it!" I said, in what I hope was an encouraging way, "This is something that takes practice. With practice I know you can do it." She tried again, succeeded, and wanted to share her pride, "I did it!" I said, "Hooray, you did it! I knew you could! You must feel very proud!"
  • Child wanted to work out a plan for the projector for the TV on the Big Wall. Described plan in nauseating great detail. I said, "I can tell you've put a lot of thought into this plan. I was confident we would be able to work something out."
  • Child helped me out by bringing me a diaper. I smiled and said "Thanks!"

Ayn Rand described self-esteem as ". . . reliance on one’s power to think." (“The Age of Envy,” The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, 181.) Kids need practice using and ultimately relying on their own judgment, and this extends to judgment about one's own efficacy, accomplishments, and abilities.

When Mom or Dad plays the role of cheerleader, I think they can rob the child of the chance to experience his feelings about a situation firsthand, and to get too used to thinking "Will Mom and Dad like this? Will the Big Thing I just accomplished make them feel proud?"

There's much more I could write about this, but I've been working on this post all day! I'll try to revisit some of these ideas as the week progresses. If you have some good experiences with encouraging (as opposed to praising) kids, feel free to write them in the comments. :o)

1 comment:

Kelly Elmore said...

I try to do this as well. But I do have a problem with one of the examples on the card. I don't love "You must feel so proud." Does a child necessarily feel proud of an accomplishment just because we think it's neat-o? I think this tells them what they should be feeling, instead of trying to see how they really feel. If they really do seem to feel proud, I think it would be better to say, "You seem to be really proud." And if they don't show the signs of being really proud, we could just find out if they feel happy, proud, excited, relieved, or just nonchalant. There are many ways to react to an accomplishment, and I don't want to give a child the idea that I know the best way for them to react to their own accomplishment.