In my last post I touched a bit on praising children's work. I've written about praise before, but in re-reading Alfie Kohn's work recently, my stance on NOT praising kids has been strengthened. Here's why:
I, like many well-meaning adults I know, used to equate praising children with a) positively reinforcing behaviour that I want to see again and b) instilling self esteem in the child. We now know (and science backs this up) that praise has the opposite effect.
Yes, you read that right: praising children can get in the way of building their self esteem and is an ineffective long-term strategy for getting the child to repeat the very behaviour you are trying to encourage.
In one study, a group of children were praised for eating vegetables while another group was not. Later, parents of the children who were praised went on to report that their child liked, and ate, less vegetables than the group of children who were not praised.
In another study, children who were praised for "being nice" or "being good sharers" may have, indeed, been nice and good at sharing, but when asked, those children didn't report feeling that way about themselves. What that means is, they were good at acting in ways they knew their parents/teachers/caregivers approved of. A behaviorist parent probably sees no problem here-as long as they are getting the behavior they want out of the child, they don't care very much about what's going on behind the scenes. But I think most of us want to raise children who are independent thinkers, and that includes adopting and living according to their own set of morals and values. So rather than being kind and generous because they know it is expected of them, we hope to raise children who self identify as kind, who value generosity, and that is why they act that way!
It can be a bit of a rabbit hole to go down, and praising children is DEFINITELY a hard habit to break. But I want two things for my daughter: to know that she has my love and approval regardless of what, or how well, she does, and, that she never loses this internal lust for learning and curiosity, which can easily become weakened by external factors like praise and/or rewards.
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