The Dark Side of Praise

We live in a time where parents feel they have to praise everything kids do; no matter what. Whether they make a good effort, a poor effort, a mediocre effort; they get praised. It’s the mentality that everybody on the team gets a trophy. “Everybody’s a winner,” nobody loses. We live in society where kids view reward as their right. Many want to start at the top and not at the bottom. And why wouldn’t they? Just look at the world they live in…
  • Teachers asking their students to call them by their first name.
  • Schools eliminating the honor of having a Valedictorian from graduation ceremonies.
  • High school district policies that dictate a teacher can’t give a grade less than 61%
  • Little leaguers that strike out, followed by the shrieking voice “Great at bat!”
Today parents are driven to make sure their child is happy at every turn.  Now, let me give you just a little quick teaching on praise versus encouragement. Your child has just walked through the door with all A’s on their report card:

THE PRAISING PARENT

The praising parent makes their child’s happiness the all-important goal of their parenting. We really believe in America that praise is good for children. These ideas of enforcing fairness and protecting feelings grew out of the “Great self-esteem movement.” We were dooped by social do-gooders, psychologists, and self-help professionals that it was imperative for kids to feel good about themselves! For proper development, the child must feel good regardless of his effort or ability. While it is important for children to have a healthy self-esteem, we have praised our children into weakness. They now expect that they will always win, always receive praise, and always be rewarded for trying (vs. succeeding).
When the praising parent’s child comes home with all A’s, the response may look like this, “”Oh, we are so proud of you–you are just the best kid in the world, thank you so much for doing that!  Here’s $20 dollar bill!!”
This is verbal praise combined with a financial reward.  I can hear it now… “What’s wrong with that?”  This is our society’s failed practice of assigning a dollar value to outcomes. You’re conditioning your child to choose activities that have financial reward, and developing the expectation that they SHOULD receive a financial reward when they do something they are expected to do!  Praise goes right to the actor, where encouragement goes to the act.
If you want your children to feel good about themselves how about a different approach?

THE ENCOURAGING PARENT 

The encouraging parent promotes a child’s self esteem from the inside out. So this time when little Buford walks in the door with straight A’s, the encouraging parent says, “Wow good job! It’s clear to me that you really enjoy learning. It looks like all the hard work and studying you have done this past semester has really paid off! That must make you feel real good inside!”  Do you see the difference. It’s subtle, It’s not, “Oh, what a wonderful kid you are.” It’s, “Your effort, your extra studying has really paid off.”
That is the difference between praise & reward, and true parental encouragement. Your child needs that encouragement–Vitamin E if you will–and you are the best provider of it.
This week look for ways that you can encourage your kids without going over the top and praising them.  So next time, when Buford strikes out…you might greet him with a simple, “Hey, rough day at the plate, eh? 0 for 3. Hey, you know, I’m going to be home early on Thursday night and Wednesday night, too. Come to think of it, if you would like me to take you down to the park and throw you some pitches, I’d be more than glad to do that, if you think that would help.”

Go be an encourager.  Want to listen to me speak on this topic, click here.

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Comments

  1. Great post, Dr. Leman. As a teacher, I don’t allow my students to call me by my first name. It eliminates the level of respect needed to maintain proper management.

  2. That audio clip was hilarious.
    I heard a little girl at ice skating practice this week say seriously to her dad “Are you gonna give me a hundred bucks if I do good today?”.
    I’m guilty of this though too I think because I give out tickets for good acts and kids can use them for extra screen time or to get out or chores. Hmm… sounds like I need to phase that out. Thanks Dr. Leman.

  3. Awesome post (and audio clip), Dr. Leman!

  4. Your advice is so practical! It takes alot of thought and practice to avoid being a “praising parent”. My oldest has been working on her swimming skills but certainly has room to grow–I wanted to encourage her but get her to strive to improve. I’ve recognized her effort and dedication to practice, but never went overboard. This past week, she went to her coach and specifically asked for help to improve her diving–she practiced hard and finally nailed her dive. She was literally beaming–I was so proud of her and then told her that I was proud of her for figuring out what she needed to do and getting it done. She said she was proud of herself too. I am not sure if she would have addressed the issue this way if I had heaped the praise on her. I hope that was the right approach–it certainly felt right! Thanks for your wonderful blog!

  5. Marcia Brandt says:

    A plague in education today – rewards! Why does there need to be a tangible reward? Intrinsic rewards can be infinitely more valuable. “Good job.” “I’m so proud of you.” “You should be proud of yourself.”

    And on the opposite end of the stick, whatever happened to “shame on you”? “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

  6. An SNL video comedy sketch on this exact topic:
    http://www.hulu.com/watch/319318/saturday-night-live-you-can-do-anything
    (By the way, Dr. Leman, I’m thankful for your book, “Sheet Music”!)

  7. A few weeks ago, my 14-year-old son (one of twins), said to me, “Mama, what will you give me if I get straight A’s?” I told him, “I’ll give you my respect.” He was disappointed. But when he brought home 5 A’s and one B and actually heard those words of respect, he changed his tune. And now it’s bleeding over into other things. “Mama, I’m trying to be more mature. How can I help today?” Seriously. My 14-year-old son said that to me just yesterday.
    Turns out that “just” respect is a pretty good reward!

  8. David Hendrix says:

    Spoke right to me….I’m the praising parent. I didnt have anyone telling me muxh of anything when i was a kid so I guess I wanted to make sure my kids felt great about themselves. I see the subtle difference but now I question whether there is ever a time to praise our kids.

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