Friday, November 23, 2012
40 ways to Praise your child without Praising them
For most parents saying ‘Good job’ or ‘well done’ is automatic, it is considered a part of positive parenting and we very rarely even think about it when we say it. So many parenting advice books say ignore bad behaviour and reward good, so it’s something that is built into our parenting collective conscious. For me it was like an automatic tic, I said it whenever I could see my son had achieved something be it small or large. It required little thought and no follow through. It was easy.
Then I read some Alfie Kohn and some Teacher Tom and I reviewed my opinions.
I won’t go into a long spiel about why using non specific praise and positive feedback isn’t ideal, because there are many people who can speak more eloquently on this topic than I ever could. What I will say is that saying ‘good job’ and offering non specific praise does nothing to build confidence or let your child find their inner motivation. Using the carrot and the stick does not breed free thinking or critical thought; it breeds affirmation seeking and compliance. This is not me saying that praise is bad, there are times when it is totally appropriate and if you use one of those phrases inadvertently you are not damaging your child or destroying their independence forever. Parenting doesn’t work like that.
When I first heard about this whole inner motivation thing I was irritated because all of the blogs I read about it focussed on why it was wrong and had an overwhelming message of ‘tsk tsk don’t do it’. So I filed it under yet another way that I am Doing. It. Wrong. But, for all of that, these articles sung for me a little because I personally seek praise all of the time, and if someone criticises my ideas then I am easily brought down. It irritates me that I am so reliant on external feedback and it’s only later in life that I have built the confidence to be satisfied in my own right. Even now I struggle with criticism, so maybe this Alfie Kohn isn’t so wrong after all.
So in saying all of that, this blog is not about how you shouldn’t parent, we have enough of those. This blog is about what you CAN do. Here is a little tool kit of things you can say instead of ‘good job’ and even if you do say good job from time to time. It’s not a biggie, the parenting police won’t come and get you. I promise.
What to say when they’ve done something helpful.
Thank you for that
I really appreciate your help
That was really helpful
Because you did X we can now do Y
That was very kind
It really helps me when you do X
It’s really nice when you help me out
Doing X makes me feel good
I love helping you
When they achieved something great or they impress you
Look you did it
Did that feel good?
I am really impressed at how you (be specific)
I can see what you did there
I see that you did x y z
It looks like you thought really hard about that
I can see you put a lot of effort into that
Wow, look at all of those colours/shapes etc
I see that you did this and look what happened
You have been practicing that for a long time
You worked really hard on that and I can tell!
Wow, how many colours did you use?
How did you do that?
I’m impressed, how do you feel about that?
Tell me about what you did.
When they show empathy and kindness
I bet x felt really great when you shared that with them
It feels nice when your brother sister is smiles doesn’t it
Look at your brother smile, he loves playing with you
It makes me so happy when you share with me
That cuddle made me feel happy
That was very kind to share your x with y
General praise (for those little achievements in life)
I see you worked together to do this
I see you thought really hard about that
How exciting for you
I like to see you thinking about things
I really like to see you play
Seeing you enjoy your game makes me happy
I bet that feels much better now that you pooped/changed your clothes/wiped nose etc
Does that feel better?
Now that you’ve done x, y happened
If in doubt.
Be specific – if you’re going to praise make it very specific rather than a general ‘good job’
Don’t assign a grade or rating (good/bad etc)
Speak from the heart - if you are impressed then say it
Ask questions – people love it when you are interested in what they are doing
Make observations – just stating what you see can be perfect in itself
Talk about consequences – doing this resulted in this
Say nothing and just enjoy being in their creative space
It takes a bit of practice and sometimes I am lost for words, or my comments come out garbled. Sometimes I miss an opportunity to appeal to their inner motivation and fall back on old habits, but it doesn't matter. Sometimes parenting is just about enjoying each moment as it passes and then moving on to the next one. I have noticed a shift in my sons confidence levels since changing my language and that has been nice. It's like watching a flower unfold. Worth a shot?