Growing up there are two incidences that remain crystal clear in my mind and each of them was a lesson in praising children.
The first was not quite a single incident as much as a series of happenings. Once I decided that it was time to give my room a face-lift. So I changed the position of the furniture (don’t ask me how I managed), and made sure everywhere was spic and span. Then I hurried to find my mother in the kitchen and dragged her to see my room. I stared anxiously at her face as I waited for her verdict. I did not have to wait too long. She gazed around with a surprised look on her face, turned to me and told me what a wonderful and hardworking little girl I was. I felt ten feet tall that day; like I could go out and take on the world by myself.
The Second incidence
The second incidence was when I went back home on holidays after my first year at University. I had to drive into town, which was about an hour away from where my parents lived. I was a bit nervous because I hadn’t driven for close to a year, but I got in the car and drove it anyway. When I got back later in the evening, I was so proud of myself and as usual, I turned to my mother, looking for approval. “Guess what mum, I drove to town and back!” I waited for her to tell me what a clever young girl I was but she just gave me a measured stare and went back to what she was doing. To her, it was a nobrainer. I turned away feeling ten feet tall, like I could go out in the world and do any damn thing I put my mind to.
It’s Not That You Shouldn’t Praise Your Children…
Praising children is vital to their development and when it is coming from the parent, it does a lot to boost the confidence of the child. Thankfully most African parents have moved away from the belief our grandparents had that praising children, or even acknowledging what they do right is spoiling them. Receiving praise from my parents taught me to not look for accolades anywhere else. Modern day parents understand the benefits of praising children and they praise their kids a lot. And therein lies the problem.
It’s the Way You’re Doing it
If the idea is to boost your child’s confidence and motivation through praise, the way you’re doing it could be counterproductive. By telling your child, “You are so smart!” “You are so creative” or even “Great job,” you might actually be chipping away at that child’s confidence and limiting their ability to grow.
In recent studies by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, it was shown that the way you praise a child will determine whether that child has a fixed or growth mindset. Children who are told that they are smart or creative tend to think that those are attributes they are born with. The danger of this is that they do not make the extra effort to improve over time.
The study was an eyeopener on the effect certain kind of praise has on children. Bill Murphy Jr. wrote a concise summary of the study, which was published on inc.com.
So What is the Right Way to Praise a Child
Renee Jain wrote a great article on the right way to praise children. Each point she raised gave me insight and I had to reexamine the way I have been doing it. She pointed out that it was important to keep things real. Children know when they have not done a good job, so when you say “Good job,” and it isn’t, it not only affects their confidence, it also shakes their trust for you.
Next time you are tempted to give a blanket praise, don’t do it. It is much better to pause and look for something specific – a process – to praise. Praise the child’s willingness to learn or to try new things or an improvement. Praising intelligence or smartness can cause your child to stop trying. What we are inadvertently doing is raising praise junkies; children that lose the motivation to do anything once the praise is no longer there.
I loved getting praise from my mother, but it was her no-nonsense approach to life (and to praising children) that made me independent and determined to work harder.