Saturday, June 13, 2009

March11_Monkey2This post will be the last one in my series on Raising an Optimistic Child book. I will write about the chapter that I found interesting and relevant. It's called Create a Family Culture of Appropriate Praise. The authors made a point that praise benefits both the giver and the receiver. The receiver gets a boost to his self-esteem and, if commended for doing something well, his sense of competence. The giver gets an equally valuable reward: seeing the faces he cares for light up and strengthening the relationship. If praise is withheld, the blow is dealt to children' sense of self-worth and competence. Then the authors went into more details about three types of appropriate praise saying that each is necessary at the right time and can be damaging if it's the only type of praise received.

  • Praise for achievement (what he does). Whenever you think that your child does something well, tell him. However, achievement praise loses its power if it's used indiscriminately - if, for example, "that's fantastic!" covers everything from finishing dinner to riding a bicycle alone for the very first time. Indiscriminate phrase for achievement can actually promote narcissism and extreme self-absorption, inability to make friends or behave appropriately in social situations, irrational anger at others, and a lack of interest in learning.

  • Praise for process (how he does it). The research showed that "process praise" - for effort, inventiveness, keeping at it - is the most effective kind. Process praise is not focused on outcomes, yet it helps children actually do better at tasks. He learns that how he does something is important. He will keep using the techniques and ways of thinking he got praised for and that are most likely to bring about a sense of mastery and success - both major factors in preventing and healing depression.

  • Praise for person (who he is). People need to know that they are valued just because of who they are, without having to strive for this recognition. You can say to your child, "You are a great kid!" This is a relationship-building praise, but it's also a statement of your feelings toward your child. The subtext is: "I love you and I am not going to abandon or desert you." Since there is nothing a child fears more than abandonment, this is a vital ongoing reassurance.

The authors also stress that there is such a thing as bad praise. One example they give is using "nonspecific" praise. For example, telling a child he's "good" when you are really pleased he's picked up his toys doesn't let him know specifically how he can maintain your approval. Even praising a child for a fixed trait such as intelligence or being musical or athletic can backfire. The child has no control over these genetic characteristics. Researchers have found that labeling children as gifted or talented may also have a negative impact by causing them to become overly concerned with justifying that label. They may become less willing to risk academic setbacks by taking on challenges that enhance their learning and mastery skills.

I found the last paragraph especially interesting, because it seems that some parents appear to be in extreme rush to get their toddlers labeled as gifted. There is one parenting forum I encountered that is called "Advanced Toddlers and Preschoolers". Half the posts there start with the same question, "... my 20 month child recognizes letters. Is he gifted?". Even if he or she is, what difference does it really make? Young children still need the same things - opportunity to play, socialize with peers, enjoy outdoors. Their natural talents will develop much better that way. Oh, well, I am going to get off my soapbox now and go give my daughter a much-needed bath.


Crystal said...

This is great advice. I really liked the last paragraph too. Aubrey was a little behind in her speach (and walking, crawling etc.)-there is nothing wrong with her she just does things at her own pace. Anyway I noticed a lot of people comparing our children and offering unwanted advice. Most included is there something wrong with her and you should have her checked AND my child can do this. It seemed most wanted their child to sound very smart. It was so frustrating and even at a young age I would try and praise her for the words she did know and continue to encourage not pressure her. She 3 1/2 and maybe she doesn't talk as well as some kids but she exactly where she is suppose to be. Anyway so I really believe praise is wonderfull for the child and as a parent keeps me more focused on the positive (and keeps the annoance with others in control).

Kristiana said...

I wish you would stay on your soap box. I really enjoyed reading that. I was completely captivated.

MaryAnne said...

I think you are completely right in saying that, gifted or not, young children need the same things - so what difference does it make?

Sarah said...

Have you read Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn? It's also about praise, as well as punishments. That book really changed the way I talked to the kids. He's even more picky about what is good praise. What I've tried to do is only praise effort. So for achievement I would say something like, "I've noticed how hard you worked on this project all afternoon, and now it's done! I'm glad you stuck with it."

I've backed away from telling my kids they are great or smart or funny. I don't always remember, but I know what goes on in my head when someone says those things to me. "Sarah you are so smart!" No I'm not, I just happen to know a little about this. I can always find a way to contradict any praise. Instead, I try to tell the kids how it affected me. Son, that made me laugh so much I could barely breathe. Daughter, you can count all the way to 100 by 10s! I'm impressed!