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September 21, 2007


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"Mothers are subject to constant criticism in our society and it's so troublesome"

Alfie Kohn is addressing "parenting" - fathers can also play a role.

I am a big fan of unconditional parenting. I think people are missing the point. I think people can get carried away with the no praise thing. I find myself saying good job... but the point is to think about why you are doing things.

The comments above are not disputed that positive reinforcement is useful in shaping behaviour. But Kohn argues that we do too much of that.. that too many parenting books are focused on how to get me kid to do this or not do that.

He argues for a working with approach... rather than a doing to.. (quick disclaimer, it is also not a permissive, anything goes approach.) It takes a lot of work, but I am a big fan of his (His other work on competition, testing in schools, and most recently homework are quite compelling)

I am a bad explainer, I recommend reading unconditional parenting or watching the dvd. Take a look before you dismiss..

Whoops, duh. Of course, I meant it's better to have too much praise than have parents who don't give you any positive reinforcement.

I agree, more praise is worse than growing up where nothing you do is ever good enough.

At the risk of sounding like a pedantic A**HOLE, it is a proven fact that the best way to shape behavior is through positive reinforcement. Not criticism. Not punishment. Not shame. Simple positive reinforcement. Like remembering to praise praise praise when they do it the right way. People who say too much praise is creating narcissistic kids, IMHO, are just bitter about their own harsh childhoods. Another round of therapy for the house!

It's interesting to think about. The linked article "5 reasons to stop saying Good Job" was interesting as well, and made some excellent points.

I probably DO use to much general "praise" and sometimes for the wrong things. I try to model what I consider good manners by using please and thank-you for tasks I want my kids to do. I make an effort to praise them for doing something (eating a good dinner without whining or managing all the steps of going to the bathroom without reminders) that is normally very challenging for them.

I think it probably is much better for a child to ask questions about, say, a painting they've done, instead of blind praise. And pointing out how their actions (ie-sharing) positively affect their peer instead of just praising them also sounds like a good idea.

When I was a self-conscious teen staring in the mirror, my father (NOT a parent I strive to emulate) would tell me I was vain.

I praise my kids regularly and specfically. I tell him that I like the way he drew the eyes on a picture or the way he learned how to do a summersault.

I do not tell him he is perfect; I do tell him that he is my favorite 4-year-old/2-year-old. And he is.

I heard them talking on the radio about this. I think the only time it's a problem is when you're puffing up your child's self esteem unreasonable. The example they used on the radio was parents convincing their kids that they were the next big sports star, no matter their skills. We all know how unlikely it is that a particular child will reach that level, but some parents make their kids believe it.

Praise when it's reasonable is a very good thing. Kids need it. But they also need to know where they could improve. It's a balance, but I think most parents do well at it. It's just that the ones who overdo it stand out.

Parenting is such a "fly by the seat of your pants" job. My question is, who are these experts and what kind of childhood did they have where they have to grow up and reinvent the wheel?

This debate drives me nuts! I remember in co-op preschool, if I slipped and said "good job honey" to Katie, I would get the death glare from the parent educator. Pa-leeeze, woman, isn't there something more valuable you can share with me? That's what I should have said to her, anyway.

Glad I'm not the only one!

Personally I just love how all the parenting articles lump all the kids together and recommend the same parenting tactics for them.

Wow, honestly? I can say that one is a tough call. All you have to do is watch ONE minute of American Idol auditions to see that somewhere along the line, somebody was feeding these kids misinformation. But I agree. A little praise never hurt nobody. A lot? Well, maybe ... This is an issue that ALL teachers deal with on a daily basis. And we don't know how to handle it any better.

Fantastic post. Children can and should be praised. Not empty praise, for sure, but when they do a good job, or try hard, why not? The statement that children will only work for praise then? Utterly ridiculous. Don't adults actually strive for praise also? Bah!

Coddle away. We need to be quicker with praise and gratitude than we are with correction, in my opinion. Great post.

I think empty praise is what concerns me... the idea that children cannot handle even constructive criticism or a simple, "nice try".

I have a brother who is the product of "whole language", which was an approach to spelling in the mid-eighties, and was basically the concept of just letting children sound everything out w/o the benefit of phonics... it was all to spare their little feelings from being sad when they spelled something incorrectly. As a result, we're all just pleased he can put the letters in his own name together.

I read that bit about spoiling our kids and I thought, "Hmm, I suppose another alternative is pussy footing around the house trying not to incite another 'Jesus Christ can you do nothing right you piece of shit?' but then they'd probably criticize me for subjecting my own issues on my kids and blah blah blah. Becuase in the eyes of "others" we just can't fucking win, from nursing to praising, what is good is bad and what is bad is good. Or some shit like that.

As a teacher I do see the effects of too much praise reflected in the way kids act with their peers. Alfie Kohn has some great points in his article "Five Reasons To Stop Saying
Good Job." It can be found here: http://www.alfiekohn.org/articles.htm#null

Heather, et. al., I think it is not just the experts who are on the farthest sides of the pendulum, it's society as well. We have a hard time believing that there is a middle ground.

That we want our kids to have some measure of self-esteem is derided by those who don't see that as being balanced with a sense of accomplishment, or a sense of right and wrong.

Most of us do understand these things and do try to balance them, but the media likes to use extreme examples like, as one NYT article offered, the kids who come to Kindergarten never even having lost at Candyland, to illustrate what can happen. And then society twists what can happen into what will happen.

I don't think there is such a thing as too much praise, if the praise is warranted.

Sometimes you know your kid did a half-assed job of drawing a picture (scribbles and calls it a person when your child is 5) and in that case I know my child is testing me to see if I truly believe her art is beautiful. In these cases (where she clearly didn't try and is testing me) I don't tell her it's a great picture, because she didn't try at it. I'd probably say something like "nice use of the color brown" or something.

Don't know if that makes sense, but I think that is what the "experts" mean by overpraising.

I generally don't listen to the experts anyway. I prefer to do things my own wrong way.

So am I the only one who yells, "IN YOUR FACE SUCKA!" and does the victory dance when I win at Candyland?

As I've said before on this topic, these are upper class problems. People worrying about this crap don't have other stuff to worry about.

We say "good job/eating/playing/whatever" to Thalia so much that when she heard her 9 month old cousin babbling she yelled out GOOD SINGING, BEA!

Agree with your main point, but I've also been thinking about the whole sex/violence thing lately. Personally, I'd rather have a kid who kisses her teddy bears a little (ahem) deeply because she's seen a sex scene on TV than one who thinks killing people is a fun afternoon. I can't figure out why the "norm" is backwards...

Great post! Good point!

You're super-duper-cool...

...but we all knew that.

I agree. Plus, some kids simply need encouragement. My oldest needs encouragement when he's frustrated. He needs me to focus on the positive so that he can do it himself. His younger brother doesn't need that so much, but I'll give it just the same. Plus, I don't have the time or energy to analyze every word that comes out of my mouth to determine whether I'm "coddling" my kids or making them look outward for positive reinforcement. If my kids are happy and they keep trying, I know I said the right thing.

If a good job is done then what the hell is wrong with applauding it? I don't think we need to praise every fart and burp, but let's throw the kids a bone or two.

And speaking of bones, I usually say "good job" too. Not necessarily because I think it's wrong to say "good girl" but because it confuses my poor dog who, after hearing that, comes running for a cookie.

I agree - totally. I'm very positive with my son, but when he has done something wrong (i.e. bite) he knows it is wrong.
Kids, especially girls, need positive reinforcement - or they will look elsewhere.
I'll never forget the girl I babysat who was about 9. She was not a pretty girl and she was chubby. One day another kid made fun of her for being "fat" and she stood up for herself. I asked her how she knew to do that and she said "my mommy said I'm beautiful what does that kid know."
That's the mother I want to be. You know what? That girl is in her twenties now, and is poised and confident. I totally believe it's because her parents let her believe in herself and showed positive reinforcement.


I'm with kgirlto, too.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find kids and teens or tons of adults for that matter who are immune to the thoughts/praise/criticism of others, no matter what. We are social animals, and inclusion and the wish for it is hard-wired in us.

Over-indulgence and poor limit-setting/boundaries are more harmful to self esteem,(not to mention more prevalent) I'd say.

No matter what the 'experts' tell us today, another set of 'experts' will tell us different tomorrow. Why? Because they are not really experts at anything but keeping themselves employed. Food, parenting, medicine - doesn't matter. The 'experts' will change their mind as soon as the majority of us agree with them and their funding drops off.

However I do know a child (age 6)who gets told 'good job' and rewarded with candy basically for remembering to breathe during the day. If he isn't getting 24/7 praise,he just sulks & makes everyone around him miserable. There is such a thing as too much praise.

Actually, I'm pretty sure I could use a smaller fork myself.

Here's a much better article on the subject. http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm
The point is to encourage internal souces of positive self-esteem, not to be dependant on others. So instead of saying "Good job!", that is, "I approve of what you did." You might ask "Are you pleased with it/proud of yourself?" You might say "I notice you used a lot of blue in your picture, it looks like a sunny day." Which says that you have paid a lot of attention to the picture and noticed it's details and effort. Does that make sense? It's a great article, please read it when you can.

Good gravy. I find it's good to tell my son "great job" especially during potty training. Isn't praise what it takes to reinforce positive behavior?

It's not like I say, "Dawson, you're the potty-chair God!" or something.

I mere, "yay! You did it!" is praise enough I think!

What a load. I'm one of the 20 somthing generation and if someone were to walk up to me either throwing confetti or handing me a balloon (it's in the article, I about shot coffee out of my nose when I read that) I'd look at them if they were nuts.

We could all stop praising our children, and in 20 odd years we will be reading articles saying the 20 somethings of that generation are out making dangerous decisions in order to find some acceptance and love.

I'll keep praising my kids thankyouverymuch.

Oh you slay Bossy - never a missed opportunity to skewer the in-laws.

I'm not sure about all that. The articles I've read on this topic in the past always discouraged generalized positive reinforcement, which I agree with.

Don't say, "good job." Say "Thank you for cooperating." or "Good job doing x." Specific, directed praise, so the child actually can recognize where the good behavior is in order to repeat it.

But not to praise them at all? That's just ridiculous.

I just don't know how it can be bad. I would have killed, as a child, for any morsel of praise or positive reinforcement, but no matter how well I did, it was never there. What, there was a 'B' in with all the 'A's' on that report card? You didn't cook dinner just the way we like? You were too busy with homework to sweep the floor? Oh, you're a high and mighty one -- yeah -- that was really helpful.

I pray it won't be PunditGirl writing stuff like this about me in 20 years.

Love that kgirlto.

We say she's always a good girl -- but sometimes she makes not so good choices.

It's hard to get out of, though the whole "Were you a good girl today?"

But making positive choices, at least throws the ball in her court.

I call BS on the alleged experts.

When my kids need correction and guidance, they get it.

When they do something good, they get praise or appreciation.

Help me unload the dishwasher, thanks.

Draw a nice picture, ooh that really looks like Winnie the Pooh.

I'm pretty sure they aren't ruined. So far. We haven't hit teens yet so give us time. ;)

And your last sentence? Dead on!

Great post!

Using My Words

I call BS on the alleged experts.

When my kids need correction and guidance, they get it.

When they do something good, they get praise or appreciation.

Help me unload the dishwasher, thanks.

Draw a nice picture, ooh that really looks like Winnie the Pooh.

I'm pretty sure they aren't ruined. So far. We haven't hit teens yet so give us time. ;)

And your last sentence? Dead on!

Great post!

Using My Words

Considering how often our kids have their behavior corrected - because that's just how life goes when you're a toddler - I think it's all the more important to point out the good stuff.

All of these experts that swing to either end of the pendulum. They make my panties bunch up. Everyone likes recognition for the things we do right. Kids are no different. And there is a time and place to correct them for the wrong things they do too.

Ugh...experts and their idea that parenting is a one way street heading only in their direction. Dumb asses.

The only thing I actively try to do is replace 'good girl' with 'good job' or whatever. Because being a good girl all the time is not my greatest hope for my daughter.

I'm so totally with you on this one. Where's the self-confidence if kids think they have to accomplish something akin to a miracle to get some praise/recognition for it. Who, as an adult, doesn't yearn to hear "Thanks for helping on that project!" or "Thanks so much for meeting the deadline, your hard work is appreciated!". Do we honestly have to do cartwheels and backflips to get this? *sigh*

All true. and I especially like that you say "good game" when she loses rather than letting her win all the time. I have a neice that was always allowed to win and now none of her cousins want to play games with her because she pouts and quits if she is losing.
We took 5 of them to play putt-putt over the summer (ages 11-4, with the neice in question being 7) and the whiner made the whole experience no fun for anyone. Then when we got home she cried to my brother and sister-in-law about hating it and losing to everyone (including the 4 year old). They still coddle her and took her to go putt-putting again without the others! unbelievable.

your approach is much better.

I think there is a difference between praise for the heck of it and praise pointing out exactly why the child is getting praise. The first teaches the kids to expect something for just breathing. The second promotes healthy, self-confident and independent kids. Telling a kid good job for eating is different than telling a child good job for getting the food in your mouth instead of everywhere else.

Mothers are subject to constant criticism in our society and it's so troublesome.

I don't know how you ladies do it. Honestly.

Good job, Kristen!!! ;-)

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