Thursday, July 26, 2007

Too Much Praise?

Every so often the topic of "are we praising our children too much?" comes up in the media. I used to turn my nose up whenever I heard/read about the new studies. Too much praise? Is that even possible?

Older and wiser.... gotta love life's little lessons.

When Paige was born and we had to constantly work with her to reach even the smallest of milestones, praise was dripping from the walls in our house. We would encourage and bribe her to get through therapy and all of the "homework" that hubby and I had to do with her. When she would even barely respond, we would praise the heck out of her.

When she got a little older and started to work on large motor skills (crawling, standing, etc), more and more praise would be needed to get her going.

Then came speech. Even more and more praise was needed.

Fine motor skills.... "Oh Paige, that is the most beautiful purple scribble picture I have ever seen."

She needed the praise and we had no problems giving it to her. I used to think to myself, "those studies only apply to typical kids. What harm could there possibly be in giving her praise?"

Well, we've created a praise junkie.

We realized this a few years ago but had no idea what to do about it. We still don't. Something has to be done though. lol

She is finally trying to learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. If you live on our street, you already know this. Actually, if you live in our town you already know this. She can be heard screaming with frustration from miles away. She has been working on for quite a few nights now.

After a particularly hard night of trying, she was finally able to push one pedal and then get her second foot onto the other pedal. Then she freaked out because both feet were off the ground. But, she was so incredibly proud of herself, and so were we. We clapped along with her and told her "great job trying!"

The next morning she asked me "Are you proud of me?", to which I responded, "You did a good job last night getting both feet on the pedals. I know how hard that was for you." Paige's response, "Good? That's all I get, just the word 'good'? Wasn't I just the greatest you've ever seen?" After we went back and forth about how being 'good' meant something special and how we were so happy to see how proud she was for herself, she just stormed off yelling something about me not understanding how hard it was to ride a bike and how I should have told her that she was the greatest. Geesh.

The same sort of conversation can be heard after artwork too. She will say that she is going to color something, sit and scribble for 2 minutes and then expect us to call her Van Gogh. Now we just say things like, "I love all of the colors you used." or "Can you tell me what you were thinking about when you were creating this?" It's never good enough and she will say things like, "don't you like what I've made?"

She is attending art camp this summer, taught by a very accomplished artist (who also happens to be her piano teacher). After picking her up last week she told me that she is upset with Mrs. X because Mrs. X wouldn't let her do the art piece the way she wanted to. She went on to tell me, "Mrs. X said that some types of art are not open for free expression and have to be aesthetically pleasing to ones eye. Well it was pleasing to my eye but she refused to tell me that my art looked great. I don't like art camp anymore!" Oh boy.

If I could go back in time, I am not sure what I could do differently with that little girl who needed so much encouragement and praise to reach her milestones.

But I know one thing, I would have wiped my praise dripping walls sooner to avoid the hurt feelings she is experiencing now.

***** 7/26 UPDATE*****

Paige can now ride a bike!! Woo Hoo!! Hubby figured out that she was always starting from a dead stop. He told her to start rolling first and then put her feet on the pedals. It worked like magic. We took her to an empty parking lot and let her ride for a while tonight. She is so proud of herself. That's the best part! I love seeing her truly happy. I still have tears in my eyes as I type this. What a big day!!!


Andrea said...

I think this is a problem not just with preemies, but all kids. There was this great Wall Street Journal article that talks about how our generation (who might nothave been so coddled by our parents) are lavishing the praise onour kids, even when they're just mediocre in some activity.

Now those kids are getting older and can't function without constantly being praised.

My kid is totally like that.

Here's the link to that great story. It's pretty funny. (this isn'tthe original link, but ithas the story)

terri w/2 said...

I wonder if part of it (in our atypical preemie world) is that we KNOW our kids need so much support to accomplish even the smallest things. My daughter, who is a former 25 weeker - NLD, Aspergers, mild-mod CP, is one of those kids who had praised lavished on them as well. But if we didn't, would she have become anywhere near functional as she is? It is really a fine wire balancing act. Each child is so different, each situation is so different, and especially when you add special needs to the picture. It's been said that kids don't come with manuals - well, typically developing kids do - there are a ton of "how to" parenting books out there to guide parents on their way. Not so with kids with disabilities, and especially mental or emotional difficulties. .

Don't be too hard on yourself PE, as Dr. Phil would say "when you know better you do better" - we are simply doing the best we know how to at the moment. Our kids are lucky that they have us for parents - parents who are out there searching, learning and fighting for them. What's a little too much in the praise department?

Future of Hope said...

Oh boy can I relate! Praise, bribes, rewards, in the end I am sure that we have created a monster. There have been so many medical appointments and procedures, PT/OT/ST appointments etc, over the years that we have many many times resorted to bribes for cooperation. Now a typical appointment goes something like this. Me - "Today we are going to see Dr. X. He is going to want to look at _____. He is going to ask you questions about _____. He is also going to want to talk to Mom. I expect you to stay calm and answer his questions. If he asks you to _______, then I expect you to try your best." Son - " What do I get if I cooperate?" Me - " You don't get in trouble." Son - " Then I won't cooperate, cause that is a STUPID prize!" And he means it. I realize that sounds terribly bratty, and that is not what we set out to create. It was just a natural way to motivate him in unpleasant situations that has now spiraled out of control.

As far as basic Praise goes, with my son we have always had to be understated. He can't handle huge amounts, or he wigs out. A basic Good Job! or Great Try! works best. Much more causes emotional overload. Our worst problem though, is his inter-dependence. Because he does require so much one-on-one physically, he has become totally emotionally dependent as well. Even if it is an activity he can do perfectly well on his own, he cannot/willnot attempt it without an adult at his elbow, giving him constant feedback. I would love to find a way to give him some self-confidence!

The Preemie Experiment said...

Andrea wrote: "There was this great Wall Street Journal article that talks about how our generation (who might nothave been so coddled by our parents) are lavishing the praise onour kids, even when they're just mediocre in some activity."

Hi Andrea, that's one of the articles that I've seen lately. There was also a child psych on the Today show too.

Paige fits the description of an over praised child, to a T!


The Preemie Experiment said...

terri w/2 wrote: "Don't be too hard on yourself PE, as Dr. Phil would say "when you know better you do better" - we are simply doing the best we know how to at the moment."

Oh how I wish I could have seen in the future though. This is a hard one to undo! lol


The Preemie Experiment said...

Future of Hope... I could swear you were writing a conversation about my child before going to the doc!! lol

We changed our approach about 4 years ago. At the time Paige had approx. 9 specialists that she saw on a fairly regular basis. We noticed how much we were giving her before and after each appointment. After one appointment I noticed how happy she was with the simple sticker that the nurse handed her. A sticker! So, from then on we made a deal with Paige. If the doctor/nurse forgot to give her a sticker, then we would go to the store and buy her 1 sheet. She still holds me to it! After one particularly hard blood draw (harder for the nurse-Paige was fine) I asked the nurse if they gave out stickers (knowing there was no way I had time to run to the store). The nurse (trying to hold back tears because it was so hard on her) went rummaging through a drawer and came back with an entire roll of stickers for Paige. Paige was so happy. They had a heart on them and read "Love your Plebotomist". She still has some left, 2 years later!


Andrea said...

Way to Go PAIGE!!! Congratulations :)

Helen Harrison said...

I second that!

What a wonderful day! Congratulations, Paige!!

And congrats Mom and Dad!!!

ex-preemie said...

YAY PAIGE!!!! :)

Chris and Vic said...

I remember, from way-back-when (my biological kids were young) that the rationale for NOT lavishing praise was this:

If you, the parent or teacher, have the power to GIVE the praise, you also have the power to take it away. It is in the hands of the praiser, instead of the praisee. A better strategy was to put the praise in the control of the praisee, so that approval can come from inside her- or himself. Internalized praise being preferable to praise/approval coming from some outside source.

Pulling one's own strings, that is approving of and praising oneself, rather than relying on another's opinion of you was a life-lesson we wanted to begin to teach early on---that is the rationale I remember in my "parenting classes" way-back-when . . .
Chris and Vic

Miracles said...

That's Awesome way to go Paige!! and Daddy too of course.

23wktwins'mommy said...

YAY! I am so happy for Paige!

kate said...

just wanted to say big congrats to Paige for learning to ride!

INS Webmaster said...

Hey, I wasn't a preemie and I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was ten. Great job, Paige!

Kitty - The Librarian Fox said...

Great job Paige! Brilliant!

Anonymous said...

I think this changes over time, though I would never have been a parent that could be accused of "over-praise" - I'm a "good work! kind of a Mom. So perhaps because of this, my kids look at little clues - I was listening to Ali tell Kate the other day that "Mom thinks I'm doing great in ballet this summer, and Kate said, how do you know ? and Ali said, because last week after class she had that smile ... Katie sighed and said - I LOVE to get that smile from Mom" ... I wasn't sure at first how to feel - happy or sad, so I went with happy.

Interestingly, now they both want me to come to their performances/activites because they only trust my opinion, when I asked Katie why she would say such a harsh thing, she said, Mom, most people just won't tell you the truth - they'll only tell you the nice things - you actually want to help us get better and so you'll tell the good stuff AND the bad stuff. I need honest words more than nice words. Because I tend to be a 'low praiser' - I sometimes have the experience I had in June during Ali's dance performance when Katie and I just grabbed each other in the dark and quietly squealed because we just couldn't BELIEVE our little Ali was unimaginably good ... Katie said, wow - how did we miss THAT just happening in front of our faces.

Two weeks ago, Katie and I were working a first aid event for the Red Cross, at one point Kate wandered away, when I found her, I was stopped dead in my tracks because she was fully involved in a very, very animated American Sign Language conversation with this deaf man and his deaf wife (apparently, Katie was trying to get the organizer to understand that the dogs with the deaf folks were service dogs - which he wouldn't understand and wouldn't allow them in) so then Katie continued on to explain that the organizer was a horse's rear and hopefully they wouldn't have hard feelings. I was just slack jawed watching my daughter so totally competent and clearly enjoying the experience so much. She was just glowing when she came back, and gave me a rather extensive Bio on the couple. I still can't believe she has this amazing skill. But being shocked by your own kids is a major thrill.

It's one of the unbridled joys of parenting.


Special Survivors said...

How exciting for Paige to be able to ride on her own. Way to go!!

chris and Vic said...

How has this new skill impacted Paige's worldview? Now that she has this long-awaited skill, is she behaving any differently?

Sharee said...

Chris and Vic said: A better strategy was to put the praise in the control of the praisee, so that approval can come from inside her- or himself.

Can I get a few pointers on how to put that into practice? (maybe it'll even work on myself! lol)

One time I told my preemie nephew that his drawing was just "okay" ... and the rest of the family accused me of being bad for his self-esteem. Now that I have my own little one, I'm not sure when to ease back on the praise ... you should see dh and me hooting and cheering whenever we get a simple smile from the little guy!

The Preemie Experiment said...

Chris and Vic wrote: "How has this new skill impacted Paige's worldview? Now that she has this long-awaited skill, is she behaving any differently?"

Hi Chris,

She is still on quite the high. It's awesome. We're all just riding the wave with her. She was riding last night and you'd swear she had been riding for a year! Unfortunately it's much too hot for her to ride during the day and even some nights. It will be nice when it finally cools down out here. School starts next week and she can't wait to go and tell everyone her new skill!


The Preemie Experiment said...


Hopefully Chris will have some good ideas for you (and I'll be taking notes too-lol).

But, what we do with Paige now is ask her, "how did that make you feel?" or in relation to her artwork, "Tell me about your picture."


Chris and Vic said...

"Are you VERY proud of yourself?"
"I'll bet you are very proud of yourself."
"Of course, we all knew you could do it!"
"You knew you could do it, didn't you?!"
"Of course you can do it!"
In Tae Kwon Do, we say P'il Seung--that is, "I can do it," or "Certain victory (a more literal translation of the Korean)"
So when Vic or any kid is aked to do anything, they SCREAM back, "Pil Seung, SIR!"
Chris & Vic