12 April 2008

Praising Too Much?

At first, this was a bizarre concept to me. I spent at least the first two years of my son's life squealing praise at every opportunity. I thought that by showing my approval, my son would know how much I love him. I spent a good portion of my university years studying child development, motivation, learning etc. I thought I had a pretty good handle on things. I thought I was paving the path of a well-behaved child by carefully pointing out all his behaviours I liked.

Then some friends lent us a video of Alfie Kohn speaking on the topic, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason. He explains that whether you punish your child for being bad, or reward them for being good, you are giving the same message: you only love them when they are behaving the way you want them to (and vice versa). I was familiar with the notion of avoiding good boy/bad boy messages; focusing on his behaviour rather than him as a person. Kohn's notion takes it further though and there was something about his points that rang true for me.

Essentially, the way I understand it, or at least one part of it, is that while praise can modify behaviour, studies show it's for short-term gain only. For the long haul, you want your child's motivation to come from within, without need for external approval. If you praise your child repeatedly for doing his homework, at what point does he just do it for your approval? And never learn to do it because he gets a sense of personal satisfaction from it.

More reading on the topic ... Food for thought:
· Alfie Kohn

· CBS did a story on him and his book Unconditional Parenting

· A NY Times story sparked some intelligent discussion on the topic, spanning the political gamut from left to right

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