Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Constructive Praise

There are so many ways to relate to children and myriad opportunities to encourage and cheer them on in their daily lives. Some psychologists, though, warn us that too much praise, especially when it's not warranted, doesn't do kids any favours.

It's OK for kids (or anyone, for that matter) not to be the best at something. And it's OK for kids to know that they are not the best. As we grow up we need to learn how to handle failure with equanimity, and that the experience of failure can be used as a tool, becoming one of the steps in the path of learning. It's part of the 10,000 hours that we need to practice in order to become expert at something. (Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point) Kids might even be relieved to know they don't have to be good at something right away or all the time.

So how do we give encouragement constructively? Child psychologists suggest that we be specific in naming what we like about what the child has done. Comment on the way they handled a situation. Instead of saying the generic "Good Job" we can like the way the child was so brave to try a bite of something new or how he went out of his way to help someone or how she let a younger child have a turn on the swing etc. Praise the behaviour we want to encourage.

It's important to praise effort, but not the result of effort: e.g.spending enough time practicing spelling rather than acing the spelling test. Also important is not to gush - hard for a proud grandparent!! Over-the-top praise can give the wrong message to kids who know that they didn't give their best shot.

And let kids do the talking. Ask questions to have the child assess her own efforts. What did you learn when you did this new craft or what do you like about your drawing or did you have fun learning to ride your bike....what did you find hard or what was easy about it.

This post has been written so I can refer to it often to remind myself to be a better communicator. Wish I had known all this 40 years ago!