Most often when I tell people that, they look at me as if I’ve grown two heads. “Aren’t you meant to praise your children?” I’ve been asked. “Don’t you want them to have high self-esteem?” Ha! There I have them, because no, we have no intention of raising children with high self-esteem. They’re much too important, to us, to do THAT to them.
When adults focus on raising self-esteem, they create children full of bravado and sassiness. Children who are all icing and no cake. Children who often appear to be doing fine, but get into the wrong crowd. Children who often appear to be doing well, then fail high-school or university. Children who often appear to be feeling fine, then burn their dorm room down, become a binge drinker or have multiple, multiple sex partners. Children who often hide their feelings or children who are unable to ask for help – because they ‘shouldn’t’ need it.
Praise doesn’t replace a deep sense of connection. Praise doesn’t replace an internal sense of accomplishment. Praise doesn’t replace a calm, quiet, somewhat structured, excessively affectionate home environment. So we don’t praise, but we do compliment. Often.
It sounds like semantics, and it is, but the effects of changing a few words around makes all the difference in the world. You see, it’s like when we communicate with other adults: it’s how the message is received, which is most important.
Compliments are statements of fact.
You are kind. You are clever to manage that. You are loving. You are polite. You are a fast runner. You are brave. You are a great helper.
Praise means I have judged you and, according to my measuring stick, I say you’re alright.
“Good boy, for playing nicely with your friends.”
“Well done, for going up a Reading level.”
“Good girl, for being brave.”
It also sounds like we’re surprised that they are good, or clever, or brave when we use praise.
If we’re surprised when they’re good/achieve well =
that implies we think it’s unusual for them to be good/achieve =
if it’s unusual to be good, it must be usual to be naughty/not achieve =
if it’s usual to be naughty/not achieve =
they must be fundamentally, at their core, bad/not clever…
And when, they know they haven’t really achieved, we’re lying if we say they have, so we’re teaching them to mistrust us too. (But that’s another blog.)
“Oh, you good boy.”
“Good girl for putting your things away.”
In our house there is definitely no praise for correct behaviour. Our children are not puppies. We expect socially acceptable behaviour. We get socially acceptable behaviour. We say, thank-you,when they do as they have been asked – just as we would to any adult who helped us out. Or we say we appreciate what they have done. The Butterfly puts all his widdly nappies in the bin. We say, thanks. He knows that’s what people do. When he ‘helps’ to sweep the floor,
we say, “Thanks for helping”, or, “You’re a great helper”.
He knows it’s normal to help other people or complete a reasonable request, and he ‘asks’ us to do things – trusting we will help him out too. When the Hare and the Owl help us out around the house, or with the Butterfly, we say: “Thanks, I appreciate your help,” rather than: “You’re a good boy for helping.”
We’re building a home environment where it’s normal to help one another, and they often do help each other…s-p-o-n-t-a-n-e-o-u-s-l-y. There’s certainly no fuss if we ask them to push the Butterfly on the swing for a few minutes or lock the gate so he can’t escape. They certainly help other adults without being asked. Sometimes, they even help us – without being asked (still working on that one)!
We also tell our children how lucky we are to have them in our lives. We tell them it’s a privilege to raise them. We tell them that we love them. We tell them these things most days. Often more than once a day.
We don’t praise, but we do celebrate success with our children by matching their excitement with our own.
“I got an A!” = “Congratulations!”
“I did it! I did it!” = “You rode your bike for the first time – wooohooo!”
Compliments help create a deep sense of connection. Compliments affirm an internal sense of accomplishment. Compliments complement a calm, quiet, somewhat structured, excessively affectionate home environment. They help normalise acceptable behaviours and success.
We don’t praise our children because we don’t want sassy children all made of icing. We don’t want children who measure themselves against what other people say is right, or good, or a sign of achievement. We want to avoid the self-esteem myth. Our intention is to raise self-assured children: lots of cake with just a little icing.
(Confession 1.: The first time I learned about this I couldn’t speak to the Hare (who was about three) for a few days…I was certain I would say the wrong thing to him, if I opened my mouth. Probably looked like a goldfish.
Confession 2: Sometimes we do say, ‘good boy’, and ‘well done’, but it’s rare and we work hard not to. That’s our conditioning. Damn it.)
If you’re new around here: all my other posts are based on the principle of raising self-assured children, too.
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