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!
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Great article, but what do you say when your child is already used to “good job” and the likes? What’s a way to transition with out making them feel like you don’t like what good behavior the are displaying?
Also I’m curious as to how to deal with a hyper active child? How do you get them to slow down without yelling or repeating or anything outside of how we were taught parenting from our own childhood?
Lastly, what is your advice for getting a child to break a bad habit without withdrawing from them after numerous promises have been broken? For example thumb sucking?
This is great. The book, Unconditional Parenting, is what got me started on respectful parenting and I just got my husband to start reading it. He is calling me out now on how much I say “good job” to our 3 year old. I also enjoy praise and lot a lot of it as a kid. I still like to say something so I can share her experiences, so I’ve started saying things like “I love watching you learn” or “you are working really hard on that” or “great focus.” This way, I’m commenting on the process rather than the success. What do you think?
Liadhan Bell says
Wow, Thankyou for this! I sometimes feel a bit mean about the ‘awkward silence’ after the ‘look at me’ moment when a parent would usually insert praise.. as a child I received little, but I had what I can only describe as a rich inner life, even then, so I never craved it with desperation, though I still feel some acknowledgement would be nice!! At least one of my children really craves praise though, and I am learning to bring it back always to their own sense of achievement ( ‘I bet you felt pleased you persisted’ or ‘Did you enjoy colouring that in?’ , or ‘I used to feel really pleased with myself when I was your age and managed to do that’.. I don’t do it every time.. sometimes I say nothing.. but other times I hope these statements are powerful to remind her that it’s not about what others think- is she content with herself and her work, because that is what matters.
Totally agree! Struggling so much with this as my kids are still getting overpraise from my parents, who overpraised me too! The reality is it creates perfectionists who won’t try anything they won’t be “amazing” or “the best in the world” at! It’s so hard repairing!! You ARE lucky you realised early!!
Matilda Åkerberg says
Yes, I am also very interested in how you go about it in practice…….if anything because I go around praising my children all the time, sometimes over the top. I really connected with what you write and it has opened my eyes to what I am actually subjecting my children to. I really want my children to grow up knowing who they are through their on strengh, not, like you say, through external motivation and reliance. Thank You!:-)
Anna Vaschina says
Yes I’d love to know what this looks like in practice.
Yes, I am interested to know what you do instead of praise.
I’m a mom for the first time. My daughter will be 2 in a month and I want/need to learn all about positive parenting. I appreciate very much your writing. Thank you!
It’s an interesting topic and one that is getting a lot of coverage at the moment. I think, like many things, it is about balance and making it meaningful. So I try to reflect on what my kids have done and why it was ‘good’ or ‘done well’ or whatever positive attribute it may have. So I try very hard not to offer empty praise. But I think praise is worthwhile.
You said you want them to take pride in mistakes. I don’t understand the reasoning you gave about fear of failure meaning you want them to have this pride. I think that mistakes are going to happen, we need to accept that and respond to them appropriately (and without making them fearful etc), but at the same time, I don’t see why we would want to take pride in it? Maybe take pride in learning from our mistakes, but not the mistake itself.
Yes, it’s definitely about balance. Which is why I included my thoughts on encouragement and mindfulness.
I agree regarding mistakes. I meant it in that context. I don’t want them to view mistakes as failure itself. I want them to have pride in the process and understand that success isn’t always possible without mistakes and struggle.
Thanks so much for reading :)
I’m with you on this. It really hit me when I’d ask my husband at least 5 times if dinner was ok and he’d reply it was but I was disappointed if it wasn’t ‘great’. He is a fabulous cook Btw!
Since I had my own kids, I could never bring myself to say ‘good job’ and saying ‘good boy’ was an obvious no (he’s not a pet I’m training). With all the mainstream ideas about praise i actually thought it was something wrong with me. I would say thank you if he got something for me, as I would an adult. Any thing he did or made, I would exclaim ‘you dud it’ or ask questions. I was always an attachment parent, but as I read more about natural parenting I was grateful for my lack of conforming. Saying ‘good job’ takes away the from the task the child has undertaken, you may as well be handing out a grade.
Now that my son is school age, we decided to unschool. When he draws, builds or does anything else he shows me without waiting for my verdict, or asking if I think it’s nice / good or whatever. He tells me all about it and we enjoy it together.
I have one question for you about blogging (I blog too but just about the kids and their goings on) – how do you come up with topics to wrote about every week!
Yes, I would love to hear about you go about practically parenting without praise as it is something that we also try to do in our home though it has been a bit of a journey to get there.
I am grateful that since my daughter was only a few months old we became very aware of our knee jerk reaction to praise her as a ‘good girl’. We wanted to move away from this but were unsure how we could verbally share the joy of her accomplishments with her. One book we read initially suggested praising the action or activity rather than the child so instead we would say things like ‘good climbing’, ‘good eating’, ‘good painting’ etc. Over time though we became uncomfortable with these phrases as we saw that they were still conditioning her to respond to external motivation rather than follow her own intrinsic volition. Since then we have learnt over time to replace these with statements that simply state the truth e.g “You climbed all the way to the top of the ladder!”, “you ate lots/all of your dinner!”, ‘What a colourful painting! I can see three people. Who are they?’. I admit that sometimes i do say her paintings look ‘lovely’ or ‘beautiful’ either because I really think so or because I am preoccupied with other thoughts/activities and not attentive enough to remember to describe what I really see.
This is so interesting. I feel exactly the same as you describe being a ‘praise-junkie’. I believe craving praise/acceptance has contributed to many of the difficulties I’ve been through in my life, especially as a teenager.
But a few years ago I saw a programme about child psychology and the Dr. presenting it demonstrated that a child who is not praised enough becomes attention-seeking and insecure.
So where is the happy medium?
I would love to hear what you do instead of praising!