Hi everyone, my name is Rachel and I have a confession to make: I am a praiseaholic. I’m addicted to praise.
Ever since I could remember, I have felt the need for other people’s acknowledgement and appreciation of almost every achievement. Even the most mundane of activities have me looking outward to get some form of praise.
I think it began with how I was raised and was reinforced by years of schooling. From a young girl being told ‘good girl’ for everything to sticker charts, awards, and grades.
My life was filled with praise, and so began my dependency. Without it I lacked direction. Without external approval I found myself lacking motivation and feeling unfulfilled. As someone who was highly academic (and didn’t feel I achieved overly well in other areas) I also felt my worth was tied to my grades.
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A Praiseaholic Parenting Without Praise
I know I’m not alone. Lots of other adults feel similar. Praise is a cultural phenomenon due to the common thought that the best ways to get children to grow into functioning adults is by praising them when they do well and punishing them when they don’t.
I’ve written about my thoughts on punishment but I truly feel praise is just as significant in destroying natural motivation. Still, it’s harder to explain the reasons why I have made such a concerted effort to minimise praise for my own children.
Society views praise positively and even uses it synonymously with ‘positive reinforcement’. But it’s not all positive, hear me out.
Praise, when you move past the fact that it’s ‘nice words’ can be a form of manipulation.
As I began to unlearn my knee-jerk reaction to praise, I recognised that much of the praise was for my benefit. I, without consciously choosing to, was praising behaviours and choices that made my life easier or made me feel more comfortable.
I was praising stereotypically ‘good’ behaviours in the hope they would continue. But I wasn’t seeing the full picture. I wasn’t aware of the fact I was enforcing these behaviours in a way that made their motivation dependent on my response. “look what I did mummy!” – where it could have become more about my reaction than their internal drive and pride.
I cherish the occasions when my daughter manages to do something for the first time, or does something better than she’s ever done it before. But I try to resist the knee-jerk tendency to say, “Good job!” because I don’t want to dilute her joy. I want her to share her pleasure with me, not look to me for a verdict. I want her to exclaim, “I did it!” (which she often does) instead of asking me uncertainly, “Was that good?” – Alfie Kohn.
It is an ongoing process but I’m thankful I found it earlier (when Cam was a toddler) rather than later. I’m the product of a praise enriched life and I don’t want that for my children. I don’t want their worth to feel so deeply connected to external forces.
I’m not saying praising doesn’t work – quite the contrary! I think it works terribly well! However, it doesn’t build a child’s self-esteem or worth in a genuine or helpful way.
Every time we say “great job!”, we are pretty thoroughly telling our children how to feel and what to think. I want them to feel their own delight and pride. I want them to have the freedom to make their own judgments.
All children are ‘good’. All children need to know that their love and support isn’t conditional. Praise can really work against parents in this regard. Children need to know that their value isn’t dependent on whether other people are approving of them.
I also want them to take pride in mistakes. I don’t want my children to have the same soul-crushing fear of failure that I did (and do!) I truly believe praise and praise dependence is tied to that fear of failure. Failing and mistakes are so often seen as unacceptable for children. But they are part of life and success. I want my children to recognise failure as the natural progression towards success. It’s OK to be wrong.
“We want kids to experience success and failure as information, not as reward and punishment” – Alfie Kohn.
There are obviously times when our opinion is appropriate and it doesn’t mean we can’t guide them or share our encouragement or thoughts. But I think the key is mindfulness. What has become increasingly clear to me as a mum is that I have a responsibility to protect my children’s innate passions, curiosity and growth. Mindfulness of our interactions is everything. Start to question how you are responding to your children:
Who is this benefiting?
Am I telling them how to feel?
Is this helpful?
Is this even needed?
Praise me in the comments below LOL
- Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn – an absolute must read if this is something you struggle with.
- Parentspeak by Jennifer Lehr – such a significant message about how language matters with children.
- Praise, Manipulation and being a better parent – a post by Picklebums with some honesty and helpful ideas.
Thank you for reading!