Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Puzzle of Praise

"Lavish praise for each right move...(But be careful not to tell children they are doing good if they are not; if they can't do it yet, they can't feel the joy yet.)

This is the instruction that came along with our hand-eye coordination activity today.  The principle is simple enough, but it got me thinking about how I encourage my kids in general.  The news hot topic that came to mind immediately was the argument for/against giving every participating kid a trophy at sporting events. I'm staying out of that topic until my kids are older and taking part in organized activities.  What I was thinking about today was the best way to praise my kids for what they're learning. So I did a little research and reading.  

What I came across was the term "descriptive praise."  Basically it takes the bare "good job" or "You did great" and replaces them with more specific recognition.  On my end, it seems like a lot more work.  On the child's end, however, it helps to build confidence and gives them thoughts to fall back on when they're struggling.

Here are a few of the points that struck a chord with me:
When we use descriptive praise with our children we paint pictures of their accomplishments and capabilities...“You can take away ‘good boy’ by saying ‘bad boy’ the next day. But you can’t ever take away from him the time he cheered his mother with a get-well card, or the time he stuck with his work and persevered even if he was very tired. These moments, when his best was affirmed, become life-long touchstones to which a child can return in times of doubt or discouragement. In the past he did something he was proud of. He has it within him to do it again.”  -ParentingSimply.com
Praise the Effort, not the outcome. -WebMD
With descriptive praise a parent describes what a child did to deserve praise, then the child describes to himself what he did. It helps them see their strengths by seeing it, hearing it, and then feeling it...For example, if your preschooler makes you a get-well card, instead of saying “It's beautiful,” you can describe it: “I love these yellow balloons and red hearts. They cheer me up. I feel better already, just looking at them.” -University of Minnesota
Eventually, in my final stage of praise withdrawal, I realized that not telling my son he was smart meant I was leaving it up to him to make his own conclusion about his intelligence. Jumping in with praise is like jumping in too soon with the answer to a homework problem—it robs him of the chance to make the deduction himself. -New York Magazine
It makes sense.  My husband already seems to have a pretty good grasp on this style of praising our boys.  I  know with a little effort on my part this will be a great character-building parenting skill. 

I'd love to hear any insights you may have!


  1. What a great post! Those are important things to remember.

  2. I recently read the book "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" and it went over this subject. I'm so glad you reminded me of this point. I need to be better about being more descriptive. Thanks for sharing on Monday Madness - I will be featuring this post.

  3. I do think that praise is more meaningful when it is specific...I am working hard to notice their effort and not be critical (especially as our older ones are taking on chores/tasks and helping out more and more around the house).

  4. I think you are right. I tell my daughter she is smart all the time. She is now 7 and a bit puffed up about it. Sometimes she thinks she is smarter than anyone. I wish I was more specific and said things like, "I love the way you read with expression." or "You work so hard at learning things."

    thanks for sharing with Monday Madness. Hope you come back tomorrow.

  5. Great quote. Truly inspiring.

    I'm your newest follower via GFC from the Monday Blog Hop.
    Please feel free to visit my blog. Looking forward to seeing you there, and would love a follow back. Thanks!



It's so nice to hear your ideas! Thanks for taking the time to share.


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