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The Perils of Praise

Norah is driving me crazy.  There.  I said it.  A recent phenomenon, 5 bazillion times a day, she says, “watch this, mommy.”  I was changing Cedar’s diaper last night and she wanted me to “look at this” 7 times!  And it was only to show me the many different ways she could carry a stuffed frog.

Exasperation.  My child is becoming a praise junkie.

Then, inspiration.  I created this issue.  I’ve been trying to over-compensate (since I’m pretty involved with Cedar’s care just now) by over-praising her.  And it is easier to praise her than to become involved in what she is doing by asking open-ended questions.  Really, I’ve been patting her on the head and tossing her a scooby snack. 

I used to be careful about praise.  I tried to avoid “good job” which isn’t a description anyway; it is a judgement according to Alfie Kohn.  If Norah drew a picture of an apple, instead of saying “oh that is amazing,” I would try to remember to ask a thoughtful question like “is it a red apple or a green apple?”  There is plenty of research that shows the more a student is praised, the more tentative and less creative he or she becomes. 

Don’t get me wrong–I think Norah is quite an impressive child.  And I feel that praise has a place for sure.  But I want to be careful of three things:

1) Creating a condition.  I don’t want her to feel she must perform to get my love and attention. 

2) Using praise as a bribe.  “I like the way you put away your toys before dinner.”  Kids are smart and will eventually catch on to that carrot anyway.

3) Praising too much and/or for trivial things.  Lately I sound like a cheerleader:  “Awesome, you brushed your teeth.  High five!  You’re so cool.”

And the result of this last one?  “Mom, watch this!” 

I know, I know.  There are worse things I could do.  And I know it is age-appropriate for her to be a bit of a showboat.  However, I also know I’ve become her supplier. 

So my goal this week is to go easy on the positive reinforcement.  I’ll leave that for the grandparents.  And it probably wouldn’t hurt to do my yearly read of Unconditional Parenting.

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4 responses »

  1. I’ve been reading that book for a few weeks. Did you feel like you needed to be “reparented”? I love the concept but fear I have a long way to go before my instincts start to shift from positive/negative reinforcement to the appropriate responses. I also fear the husband will never be able to get past threats of physical punishment. He got “whipped” as a kid. I don’t think he remembers that fondly, but “spare the rod, spoil the child” is entrenched. I have a big job ahead of me.

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  2. When I started to learn about gentle parenting and positive discipline, I longed for a hidden camera from which I could sneak-peak into a mom-practitioner’s home. I needed to see what it looked like in real life. I think I learned the most from online forums and from hanging out with moms who had older kids they gentle-parented. (Thanks Kawani!)

    As far as my husband. We did not agree on parenting until we were in the thick of it. And then, Scott seemed to intuitively parent the way my books said. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was reading them on the sly. I’d like to think I was just “that good” of a gentle mommy that he caught on. But that wasn’t it either. It really comes easily to him.

    I think it is easy to have ideas of physical punishment because that is all many of us remember of being parented. But I think most parents would happily put that plan on the back-burner if they see a gentle alternative that works.

    I wonder how the Alfie Kohn DVD is? It might be a good flick to watch together?

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  3. I think John’s instincts and actions are gentler than his thoughts and words, if that makes sense. He “thinks” that parenting requires certain (harsh) things, but he doesn’t actually display those tendencies (but Jack is young). I’m going to look into the DVD. I suggested he read the book with me, but he doesn’t seem interested. He said he’s got plenty of time. 🙂 A DVD might be easier. Thanks.

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  4. Ahhh yes! I bet when he is in the thick of it, you’ll be parenting the same way. I spent that first freebie year (when we re-directed more than disciplined) praying and subversively indoctrinating Scott with my beliefs. Bwaahaahaaaa.

    Meanwhile, my child asked me for a spanking this morning. ?? I don’t think she knows what a spanking is.

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