Sunday, February 8, 2009

Too Much Praise-Revisited

It's been a year and a half since I posted this topic. We are still dealing with it in our house, now more than ever. I thought it was worth revisiting.

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.

***** 7/26/07 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!!!

****** 2/8/09 UPDATE*****

The constant need for excessive praise has not diminished. Now that we homeschool, the issue is in front of us daily. If she completes a math problem correctly, she expects me to jump up and down in a fit of pure joy. Me telling her, "good job" is not only NOT good enough, it sends her into a bad attitude and causes her to stop trying hard in math. The same goes for anything she does.

The other day I caught myself over praising Tyler when he was showing me that he knew his letters. I stopped right away and simply told him "great job buddy." As soon as I walked away from his easel Paige swooped in and started praising him over and over again. It was so over the top that Tyler yelled at her to "move sister!".

It may seem silly to some people that too much praise can be detrimental. But I wonder, as she gets older, where will she turn to find that praise? If I can't help her to understand that she doesn't need constant praise in order to motivate herself to do something, how will she succeed in life?


lea said...

"You worked so hard on that, are you proud of yourself?" is my most common praise. My thought is that I am acknowledging their hard work while at the same time letting them evaluate themselves. That said, I'm not sure it really works.

My youngest recently got to be a "superstar" at school and thought it was because of magic. We had to tell her several times that it was because after four months of tormenting her teacher with her intractable stubbornness, she decided to listen and was rewarded.

I wish I hadn't lost the manual when they were born, so would know what to do in every situation and where that off switch is.

Kate K. said...

Last year, I read a book on children and food. It basically said that you have to be careful of overpraising when first teaching the child how to eat. Otherwise, they'll expect praise every time they swallow.

Of course, I read this after already having my song and dance act in place during mealtime. Luckily, my son's appetite is strong enough now that he's a decent eater without the show anymore. But I can see where the author was coming from.

I suspect that we overpraise. But it is really hard as a first time parents, especially given what our son has worked through. Every time he utters a new word, our instincts tell us that he's a genius, and we go crazy with applause.

sheila said...

Hi Stacy,

Funny that you should blog this topic today. This subject just came up at our house in a round about sort of way this weekend. You may recall that during Katie's HS career, she was a member of the marching band Dance Guard (which also competed during the winter semester in an activity called Winter Guard). This year, two of her friends decided to march an Independent Guard (for kids out of HS), and her friend came over three weeks ago to specifically ask me to come to his first show. I said of course I'd come to support him - but when he left, I asked Katie, why was he so insistent on me coming, she said, you know very well that ALL my guard friends would rush to the stands to see you after we performed to get your prediction about where we we would place, and I said, well yeah, so ? I'm sure they asked other parents who were there too and she nope ... everyone realized really early on that my mother was the only one who'd give an honest (but kind) appraisal of the performance. Katie said, my friends were all jealous that my Mom would say it as she saw it. Initially I was horrified because I thought Katie's feelings were hurt - but I came to understand that she LOVED the fact that if I said "perfect !" - that it was really extraordinary and that they would in fact get first place or second at worst. She said it increased her confidence that she could count on me to list the bad with the good and the great.

Ali is much more sensitive than Katie, but even she doesn't want me to praise her beyond what she knows in her heart to be the effort and success she really had. She recently did a term paper that was especially excellent. I told her that it was the best writing I'd seen from her ... four days later, she texted me all excited because she not only got an A+ she got extra credit. I texted her back "ye of little faith, did you think your mother was blowing your skirt up for nothing? you should know better by now". LOL

I think I could probably ratchet up my praise for effort a little bit, and I'm working on that. But I do see what you are saying with our culture in general. We cheer a little too much and a little too soon. When I directed childrens theater in the elementary and middle school levels, I was shocked at the number of kids who'd finish a scene and get completely torqued that I wasn't applauding and telling them they're the next DeNiro or Streep.


Sarah Blake said...

Hey, Stacy.

Just a thought on "phasing out te praise..." How would Paige react if you asked her if a not-completely-cooked dinner was the best you had ever made? It might get the message across.

Susie Korbel said...

There is a wonderful book about the damaging effects of praise, fitting in with the High Scope philosophy of childcare. I unfortunately can't recall the title at the moment but if you are interested I will dig it out of my notes.

I can tell you that childcare providers are generally instructed not to praise children for products, but for processes, and children are encouraged to value their own work rather than to seek an adult stamp of approval.

Anonymous said...

This is a difficult question... and I don't think there's any magic formula, as all children are different. With my daughter (who's 21 months), I try to strike a balance between commending her for good behaviour/a job well done on putting together pieces of a puzzle, eating all her meal, etcetera and not giving her a swelled head, so to speak... not always easy. On the other hand, the other day she started crying loudly in a store we were at (thank God it was a toy store, so the clerks weren't particularly perturbed). I gave her a scolding, saying "You never cry in a store. You never scream in a store." The next day we went shopping and she didn't make a scene at all. So afterwards I praised her, saying, "You were a good girl. I'm very proud of you. You listened to Mommy." But I feel uncomfortable doing this every time she makes it through a shopping trip with a scene, because I don't want her to feel that she always needs a pat on the back for acting like a "good girl." Maybe you could "taper off" the praise? It's a tough question.


terri w/2 said...

We probably have over-praised at my house over the years too. Perhaps some of this comes from when you have a child that struggles so hard to do what comes easily to other same-age children, it seems praise-worthy.

In our house, my daughter with non-verbal learning disorder really seems to need praise to keep going - she's always been this way. Her motivation or stick-to-itiveness (typical of kids with NLD) is very lacking. So, in response, I guess we've ratcheted the praise to keep her going, keep her interested, keep her charged up at least to her abilities.

Praise for typical kids and praise for kids with issues though I think are not in the same league.