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I Have to Praise You Like I Should

Do you think you received enough praise as a child? Or maybe you received too much? Do you think you praise your children enough? Or too much? Do you see any connection between your own experience regarding praise as a child and how you behave now as an adult? 

I read a great many articles concerning our communications with children, and it’s surprising how at any given time, a common theme will rise to the surface. Recently that theme seems to have been praise.

On the one hand, there are those who are fans of praising profusely and often, and then there are those who prefer to hold back praise, advocating rationing in order to prevent commendation becoming meaningless.

Most of us probably sit somewhere in the middle. 

When teaching, I like to praise, but I try very hard to be specific about it, so that the child understands exactly what it is that is being met with approval. I also try to take myself out of the equation. That is to say, “That tower you have built is really tall and stable, that’s a great job,” rather than, “I really like that tower you built, I think it’s lovely.”

Focusing on our feelings about children’s efforts implies that the purpose of their actions is to please us, and it undermines children’s sense of self-control and intrinsic motivation. If, instead, we focus on children’s actions, we send the clear message that they are in charge of their learning and that the benefits are for their own growth and development.

Having said that, children do look to us for approval, and sincere, heartfelt praise is a powerful way to help them grow in confidence and develop faith in their own abilities. When push comes to shove, I can’t help feeling that a positive reaction to their efforts is going to be far more motivating for them than an unimpressed critique.

I wonder if your answers to my initial questions have an impact on your opinion surrounding this issue? I’d be interested to hear.