I've been reading lately about praising your children, and I realize that I am very, very good at pointing out what my kids do wrong. However, knowing that praise is a good thing, I try to praise my kids as much as possible. After some of my reading in the last few months, I wonder if I'm doing more harm than good. Read on.
There are studies out that show giving children unspecific, random praise, such as "Awesome. Good job! Excellent. Way to go," can actually harm their success in life. (The Praise Paradox: Are We Smothering Our Kids in Kind Words? and Can You Praise Your Child Too Much?) For example, saying "You're so smart," all the time actually conditions them to want to give up easier when trying something hard because they automatically assume they are no longer smart if the answer doesn't come easily. However, praising children about their hard work and perseverance even when things are tough makes them desire to keep on trying even if the test or task is hard and frustrating.
Also, I have been reading about praising children intentionally for the qualities you desire to see growing in them and finding those nuggets of greatness among their bad behaviors. What qualities do you want to see in your child? Do you want him to be cooperative, patient, respectful, helpful, humble, kind, grateful, and selfless? Do you desire your child to honor authority figures, choose good friends, manage time well, avoid temptation, exhibit self-control, and handle rejection appropriately? Do you want your child to persevere, share, and express thankfulness? If so, choose to see their successes in these areas, no matter how small, and specifically praise them for those qualities instead of only pointing out their failures. No matter how small the success, praise them for the characteristics you want to develop in your child. This type of "praising" takes thought and a plan. What do I want to see developed in my child? Then, you must go about seeking, actively, to see and praise those attributes.
On the flip side, the argument goes that parenting a child ONLY when he or she has done something wrong is parenting in the negative. When our child comes to the table right away when called to dinner, then we say.... nothing. When our child ignores us and continues to play even when called, then we lecture about the necessity of obedience. If our child shares like he's supposed to, we may say, "Good job sharing" or not. If he refuses to share, well, we go after it. The point is to try to also parent in the positive moments.
I've been mulling this over for a while now, and I think I want to try this method of praising my children and see what happens. Here are some examples of the way I used to praise my children (1) and the way I hope to try doing it (2). I call it my purposeful-specific-quality-inducing-praise-experiment.
1. I love to see you reading!
2. I like the way you came over and began reading your book. Reading is such an important skill, and I'm glad you see how important it is. You are really showing wisdom!
1. Good job starting your school work.
2. I like the way you started your school work without complaining. You are showing responsibility and hard work. I appreciate that.
1. You are a great piano player.
2. Your piano playing has really improved because you have worked so hard. I appreciate the way you have listened carefully to your teacher and made the necessary corrections. That shows maturity. You are really growing up!
1. Wow! You ate all your dinner without complaining.
2. Thank you for eating your dinner without complaining, even though some of the food was not your favorite. It shows a lot of self-control not to complain, and I like that you have decided to make healthy choices for your body. Good job!
1. You got a great grade on that test! You are so smart!
2. You really studied for that test and your hard work and perseverance paid off! You did your best, and it shows! I am proud of you.
1. Good job at the store today.
2. That line at the grocery store was really long, but you were so patient. I like the way you helped me unload the cart. What a good helper you are. I am blessed to have a helper like you.
The toughest is turning something really negative into a positive.
1. You would've been done with your math by now if you hadn't been fussing and complaining so much. You lose your Wii time for the day! (Imagine angry face!)
2. That math was hard, and you got really frustrated. You showed great self-control by calming down quickly and then getting that math problem done. Way to stick it out and work hard. (I actually did this after my youngest son got so frustrated with a math problem that he threw his pencil all the way across the table. I sat silently until he calmed down, picked up his pencil, tried again, and completed the problem correctly. Then I gave him the above praise. His reaction to this praise was absolutely amazing. At first he was stunned and looked at me quizzically, expecting the number 1 above response, and then he gave me a huge hug. Hmmm... maybe there is something to this.)
At the bare minimum, it makes sense to me to praise the qualities and characteristics that I want to see in my kids WHEN I see them. We'll see how this goes...