Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Problem with Praise

Sorry for the gap in posting...not sure why I lost my bloggy momentum there for a week or so, but hopefully I can get back into it--the grandparents have been clamoring for more photos of Lo!

First, a mention of General Conference. It took about a week to finish my first-time viewing of the speakers since I napped, took care of Lo Lo, etc. during some of the sessions and had to catch up. Every time we listen to conference, I come with a specific concern/question in mind. And EVERY time it gets answered. =)

I had been wondering about praise, and how to implement it in parenting. First, I'd read a few books that cautioned against the potential dangers of praise (Deci's Why We Do What We Do, and Kohn's Unconditional Parenting), and their arguments made sense when I considered my own experiences and education. Then, I read in my nursery manual that we should praise the children--but it didn't give much explanation of how/when.  So I still wondered how to implement that counsel.  I won't go into all the points here on this blog entry, but just say Jerry and I are trying to raise our Lo to do things for the right reasons, and hope he grows into an adult who feels joy in following his heart and freedom from worrying what others think of him. We want him to avoid doing things just to please others but still nurture in him a desire to please God of course. I felt unsure of how to guide our toddler's actions, because it can seem so effective in the short term to use rewards and punishments but the research indicates people generally perform less effectively over time when praised for a particular action. Furthermore, rewards can train children to act primarily for external and/or selfish motivations--forming a "what's in it for me" mentality. Ugh, I feel like I'm not explaining very well. I am really out of practice at academic writing.

Anyway, the talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins turned out to be "the one" for me this conference. I liked how he pointed out parents should praise "being" more than "doing," like saying, "You really showed diligence when you worked on that homework assignment." Instead of saying, "Good job getting your homework done." And also he indicated it works best to complement character traits, i.e. "I'm happy you have such a willing heart to serve around the house," rather than "I'm happy you are cleaning up your toys." And of course, parents should teach and talk about Christlike attributes like patience, kindness, and charity in helping their children become like our Savior. In so doing, parents themselves learn to follow and become more like the Savior as well. A beautiful example of how the teacher often learns more than the student. I feel really grateful for the blessings I receive in parenting our sweet little Lo. I have the concrete help I'd been seeking--at least for the next little while. I love General Conference!


Valerie said...

Excellent summary, Courtney; thank you for reminding me of Elder Robbins talk. Recently, I checked out a book by McKay Hatch, titled, "The NO Cussing Club." McKay is a fruit of parenting gone right. In reading his book, I discovered that his parents (Brent and Phelecia Hatch) previously team wrote a book called, "Raising a G-Rated Family in an X Rated World." I also like their parenting tips.

Becca said...

I too have been thinking a lot about praise. It is such a fine line that we walk. My parents are wonderful people, but they did not give us praise when I was a child (and still don't much). I don't know that it was a parenting choice, but probably more just their personalities. I remember though feeling like I never pleased them, that they were not proud of my accomplishments. I would be elated about something I accomplished, until my parents did not seem as ecstatic, and then I began to feel it was not good enough. When I was in my teens, if I overheard them saying how "proud they were" of something I had done, I did not believe it, or wondered why they would not tell me those things. I eventually began to feel that nothing I did would ever be good enough to get a "good job" or such from them, and wondered why I should even try.
I think the key is not to use praise and rewards to sway a child's actions, but as a way to share in their joy that they already feel. Follow the childs cues and rejoice with them, using praise in the way you quoted from GC, and not as a tool to get our children to live just to please us.
(I do love my parents, and they are great people, and I turned out okay.....and I am sure those who were praised turned out okay too....I just don't want the thought that I dislike my parents being out there.)

TheTamFam said...

Becca, you reminded me of one more thing I wanted to put in my post on praise: that expressing sincere appreciation is always good! Never harmful! Praise is harmful just like you said, when it is done with intent to mold another person's behavior. Like how parents might say "good job" just to get kids to do something, rather than uttering the phrase an expression of genuine pleasure in the kid's accomplishment. And there are a lot more criteria to insure praise is "good" rather than "bad" but I don't want to write a whole book here on my post about it.

I think I grew up with the opposite problem as you: my grandparents especially gave a lot of positive reinforcement to me which turned me into a bit of a praise junkie--I remember as a kid doing a lot of things primarily so I could get rewarded/praised rather than just for the internal joy of doing something. I still feel like I am the kind of person who "fishes" or seeks out praise when I wish I was more the type to serve just because I want to. So yes, a fine line. I agree your parents are great. ;) And I'll have to clarify that I too think my parents and grandparents are wonderful and I'm glad they gave me such a good upbringing overall. But conscious parenting entails examining the way we were raised, and trying to keep just the best parts, so here I go with all my efforts to analyze.

Melody said...

If you ever got to take Dr. Robinson's class-any of them!-he touches on this subject. In fact, I'm always amazed at how the G.A.'s talks go right along with the research and experience I learned in my classes. Anyways, it's true. Don't every say "Good job." Instead you should say "You did it!" Especially with self esteem development, to look at it another way. For example, maybe they DIDN'T do a good job. So they are not going to know they need any improvement if everything is "good job" and there is no constructive criticism. As they get older they will realize that really it wasn't such a good job and then there are trust issues and self-esteem issues. So for example, when they make their bed for the first time and it's pretty messy, you say, "Wow! You did it! Now let me show you how to tuck in the corners." Children are smart. They know when they don't do as good of a job, so you need to be honest with them.
Also, when you praise them, like Becca said, do it not only when they do a task, but even when they aren't because they feel the worth of "being" like you said. This actually helps them want to keep being that way and make good choices and try their best.
But you may know all this already from your extensive reading! I'm going to check out that book Valerie suggested!