All posts tagged praise

The P word.

This is the time of year, as high school seniors receive letters from colleges, as our elementary school athletes finish up their winter sports seasons and begin training for the spring festivities, or our students win recognition in the form of scholarships and awards. When our kids accomplish something, it can be easy to tell them how proud we are of them or share with our friends how proud we are of our children’s latest achievements. I know this makes sense to us. Our kids do great things and we want them to know how we feel, and how happy we are for them. In some cases we want our neighbors or relatives to know how great our children are (in turn) how great we are as parents and that we have raised such marvelous wonders.

The reason we boast and praise our children is not nearly as important as the answer to this question. What do you say to your child when she misses the mark? What do you say when he falls a bit short? What do you say when she fails or gets rejected?

“Oh, that’s ok, honey, you were accepted to the other two colleges.” Or you may say, “Don’t cry, I know you tried.” Do you ever tell your child, “You dropped the ball in center-field, I am so proud of you.” No.

Children interpret this attempt to make them feel better, as a lack of pride in them, as they are right now (warts, mistakes, foul-ups, rejections and all.) And since you are not proud of them, they can often interpret this as disappointment.

Vicki with Zoe

Here is an example and a conversation to illustrate.

On Friday, my daughter received her acceptance letter from Columbia University in New York. After hours and hours of research to find a program in her field of interest, she applied to graduate school a few months earlier. She was elated and couldn’t wait to share the news with us. My husband and I were on the phone with her when she opened the letter. Zoe and my husband screamed and shouted and hooted and hollered. When everyone settled down, the following conversation ensued:

Zoe: So mom, are you proud of me?

Me: Zoe, I am so happy that you got into the program you wanted and I am impressed with how hard you worked for 4 years to make this dream come true. I
am inspired to work hard for my own dreams and I am thrilled that you will be living in New York.

Zoe: Mom, come on, say it – say you are proud of me.

Iain: I am proud of you Zoe.

Zoe: I know, but I want to hear Mom say it. She never uses the “P” word. She is the only mom I know who is more comfortable dropping the “f” bomb than using the “P” word.

Me: I’m sorry Zoe, but if I tell you I am proud of you now, the next time something like this happens and say you don’t get in, you might think I am disappointed in you, and that just wouldn’t be true. See, the thing is, if a parent says they are proud, then that leaves room for a parent to be disappointed and I can assure you Zoe, that I am never, ever, disappointed in you. The best I can give you my darling is this – perhaps on my death bed, as I am saying goodbye, I will look at you and say – I am proud to be your mother.

She fell silent. I heard her take a big gulp of air and she closed our conversation.

Zoe: I love you and I am proud of me and I couldn’t have done it without all the faith and support and love that I got from you and pops.

Consider your words carefully and consider the message those words carry with them when delivered on young ears with impressionable minds.

Encouragement Without Praise

EncouragementA Podcast with Vicki Hoefle

In this conversation with Vicki Hoefle, we talk about encouragement.

Encouragement implies faith in and respect for children.

Today many parents mistake praise for encouragement, However, praise presents numerous problems for parents and children.

Listen in and discover what you can do to encourage your child and why it is a good idea to let go of the praise.

Accolades: Thieves of Discovery

Rick Ackerly Quote on AuthorityIf you have a child in school, then you may know first-hand how schools are employing external motivators (both positive and negative) to entice our kids into doing their homework, following playground rules and behaving appropriately in the classroom. You may have seen the latest and greatest star charts, GOOD JOB stickers, goodies, currency (allowing kids to “shop” based on the tokens they receive), parties, consequences, and zero tolerance policies and so forth.

These systems may lead to “good behavior” but they are the thieves of discovery, wonder, trial, error and trust in the child. While rewards and punishments may seem fun, positive, necessary or even logical, adult imposed systems aimed at steering behavior affect both the child’s mind and the inquisitive process or “genius”.

What Goodies and Stickers and Punishments Really Do (and Say)

Motivation by goodies and rewards shifts a child’s focus from satisfying the internal “genius” to following an external, imposed authority and infrastructure.

The child’s internal voice stops saying, hmmm, I’d like to discover OR wow, I notice ____ and is replaced with the externally imposed voice asking what will I get OR how can I make this other person happy (so they like me and give me a pat on the head)?

In short, the child now is thinking: if I do this, I get that.

Likewise, using “punishments” or rigid discipline rules also steals the child’s focus. It replaces the joy of discovering through trial and error with absolute compliance. Instead of having the courage to make mistakes and a desire to gather feedback from choices, our children spend their time worrying about being sent to the time-out chair or losing recess time or not earning a bright smiley sticker.

It also sends a message: hey kid, before you even show me you can handle it, you aren’t to be trusted, so we, the adults- the authority- have put in place all kinds of ways to “get you to behave.” Of course many teachers do not overtly think this way, but if the school operates in such a manner, they are challenged with delivering choice and problem solving against a current of imposed thought.

The Messy Stuff is Where Magic Happens

When an entire learning structure is dependent on a system of do and do nots, children miss all the messy learning in the middle. They are not encouraged to ask, try, challenge or discover a new way because the “right way” is laid out for them.

They don’t practice taking risks or judging for themselves what might happen if….For example, what if a child decides to break a “rule” (we walk in the the classroom) to rush over and help a friend?

Perhaps it was worth it and he makes it safely. Perhaps he falls on his face. Perhaps the friend ignores him when he gets there. Or perhaps he gets a huge hug because he showed up. That’s the kind of learning that happens in the day of a child.

In Rick Ackerly’s article, What do Good Parents and Good Schools have in common? He addresses this issue- the confusion of adult authority in children’s lives and the energy spent “keeping things from happening” vs. “making things happen.” He says,

“The key to the door of our authority prison is this: Don’t underestimate children. Act as if this child has a genius, a teacher-within with whom we can form a partnership” and “seeing children for what they really are: creative, decision-making machines whose central purpose is to self-actualize, to become authorities.”- Rick Ackerly

In life, we all know from our own mistakes and risks, there are situations where hard and fast rules do not mean the same according to context.

Is the RIGHT choice always the one that will get you the sticker? Is a “punishment” necessary if you’ve truly learned through experience? Our children deserve the space to answer these questions for themselves, while they’re young and wildly fascinated to learn what it takes to become a competent, cooperative human being on this planet.

Does your child attend a school heavily dependent on stickers and goodies? Share your stories in the comments.

Interested in education topics? Wondering how to bridge the home-school communication? Sign up for our upcoming workshop with Rick Ackerly.



The Risk of Rewards

Here it is again. Another article trying hard to educate parents on the dangers of praise and rewards.

Read Article Here

I pulled out one of my all time favorite books today The Art of Encouragement; Human Relations Training and skimmed through several chapters. Now, of course, I have to go back and read the whole damn book. It is just so good.

Here are just a few snippets I pulled out that focus on Encouragement which of course, is the remedy for a culture addicted to praise and rewards.

  • Encouragement focuses on strengths.
  • Encouragement is believing in ourselves.
  • Encouragement conveys faith in a person no matter how well or poorly things go.
  • Encouragement focuses on effort or improvement while praise focuses on outcome.
  • Encouragement challenges us to develop our potential while praise threatens us to do what is expected.
  • Encouragement can be given anytime.
  • Encouragement frees us to be our unique selves. Praise obligates us to obey authority.

Encouragement is an art form. It is subtle and powerful. It can be present at all times and can influence the direction of any situation, as soon as, it is activated.

I know how hungry parents are for ways to show their love, support, confidence and faith in their kids. And I know, with as much information readily available, that breaking the addiction to praise and rewards is still a daily challenge.

If you haven’t already committed to creating an encouraging atmosphere in which to raise your kids, take a few minutes and examine the decision you are making about praise and rewards in your child’s life.

If you find that you are ready for more ways to introduce encouragement into your family, let me know and I will write more about it. Learn more about the Parenting On Track program.

The Shocking Truth About Praise

Do you believe that good parents praise their children?

When your child wins a game, draws a picture, or comes home with an A on her report card, what do you say? What are you thinking?

Are you like so many other parents who are in the habit of responding with words like “Good job,” “Nice work,” or “I am so proud of you” without considering how these words will impact your child’s developing self-esteem and self-confidence?

A Different Perspective

A several ago, there was an article in New York Magazine by Po Bronson titled “How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise” that raised some interesting points. Consider this:

  • Did you know that telling your children how smart they are and offering praise often leads to under achievement?
  • Did you ever make the connection between rewarding your child too frequently and his or her level of persistence when rewards are not present?
  • How about the notion that persistence is also an unconscious response in the brain that intervenes when there is no immediate reward?

Now that you know

  • How will you change your response?
  • What will it take for you to become more creative in your use of language?
  • How will you ask questions that encourage your children to self-evaluate?
  • What observations could you make that would support your child as he learns new skills and faces new challenges?
  • How much discipline will it take for you to resist giving your opinion?
  • Armed with this new information, what choices will you make for you and your children?

Read the article and tell us what you think!