Praise is important for kids, but if we give too much of the wrong kind of praise, it can be harmful. I want to celebrate my children’s accomplishments, but my good intentions sometimes get in the way.
We went to the park last week, and I watched Miss H joyfully play for awhile. I went to put her brother in the stroller, and suddenly she took off and stormed up the rock wall. This is a part of the playground that she would normally avoid. Those little narrow grips, the steep incline, the sheer height of the wall all scared her off. But not this day. On this day, she bolted up the wall and by the time I realized it, she was halfway to the top.
I should have just silently cheered her on. I should have held my breath as she climbed to the top. But no. I screamed, “Way to go!” At the sound of my shocked and enthusiastic cry, Miss H forgot Brave, and was filled with fear. She started shrieking and backed down the wall quickly.
I ruined her resolve to try harder, to step out of her comfort zone. I took this moment and unintentionally made it about me.
Praise is tricky.
Children begin judging themselves based on our reactions. According to the Charlotte Mason philosophy, pleasing parents isn’t a strong enough motivator for children to do something. Eventually their motivation will need to change (Home Education).
When Miss H heard the shock in my voice, she decided she shouldn’t be able to climb the wall. Whenever I say she has done a good job finishing a chore, she wants to know if she has done a good job on other tasks as well. One day we were completing a puzzle, and she started to get frustrated. I said, “Why do you feel so frustrated right now?” She said, “Because I have to be perfect.”
Could my excessive “Good jobs” and “You’re amazings” make her feel like she has to be perfect, and that my reaction is the goal? Yes. Absolutely.
Don’t get me wrong, she needs feedback and affirmation. But I can give that to her without making it about me. I can make it about her work or her effort, not her ability. Instead of, “You’re so good at that!” I can say, “You worked so hard!” Instead of the “Good Job” that is so overused it basically is meaningless, I can make observations like, “Look at that picture you drew!” or “You chose beautiful colors.” (See an article about this kind of motivation here).
This is going to be a challenge, since Nate and I both tend to dole out praise for every potty break and bite taken at dinner. But I’m hoping that it will bring some long-term, positive changes to our children’s confidence and motivation.